We spend virtually all our waking hours immersed in sounds – sometimes to the point where we plead for quiet. So let’s visit a place where we find nothing but total silence. But beware: It’s not for the faint of heart.
How many times has this happened to you? You spend an entire day bombarded by sounds: Children crying incessantly. The monotonous banter of coworkers. The nonstop ringing, beeping and vibrating of your smartphone. Cars and trucks endlessly droning past your window.
Stressed, fed up and frazzled, you reach your breaking point and exclaim, “Just give me some silence!”
It’s natural for humans to want to escape the seemingly endless noises we encounter and the stress that comes with them.
But be careful what you wish for. Because silence – the absolute silence we often profess to want – can make you crazy. And not just the casual “yeah, whatever” crazy, but the “get-me-out-of-this-place-now!” crazy.
Welcome To One of the Quietest Places on Earth
If you really want to experience absolute silence, come with me to one of the quietest places on earth. You’ll find it inside a test laboratory called an anechoic chamber, and we have one here at Jabra. It’s where we test the performance of our audio devices and where our sister company, GN ReSound, evaluates its hearing aids.
Anechoic chambers are weirdly futuristic-looking labs, packed with odd-looking cones and wedge-shaped materials plastered to the walls. These materials absorb sound rather than reflect it, enabling absolutely no background noise to be picked up by the human ear. The average sound level inside some labs can reach a quieter-than-quiet minus-20 decibels.
For perspective, the sound of our breathing is about 10 decibels, the typical conversation is around 60 and the subway is a comparatively ear-splitting 90. Even libraries register about 30 decibels.
I’ve visited our lab several times, and it’s a deeply unsettling experience. Step inside, close the door and all outside noises vanish instantly. Suddenly, the ghostly quiet is shattered by the only sounds around your body. First you hear your pulse throbbing away in your ears. Followed by your own breathing, your heart beating, and finally the blood rushing through your veins. (Yes, you can actually hear the blood whooshing through your body!)
The experience is eerie, bordering on maddening.
And it gets worse.
You quickly begin hearing things that aren’t there. That’s because your brain, deprived of external noise, begins to fill in the blankness with something, anything. Close your eyes and the additional lack of stimuli makes the experience even more frightening. Panic and nausea rapidly set in and you want out – now.
In fact, very few people can last for more than a few minutes alone inside an anechoic chamber. And it’s why we only allow skilled engineers and lab technicians to work in there.
I know. There’s a certain irony to today’s blog. Here I am, a guy whose job is to transform people’s lives through the power of sounds, and instead I’m talking about what life is like in an environment without sound.
Perhaps a little background noise or soundtrack to our lives isn’t such a bad thing after all. Two of my favorite soundtracks to quiet moments are Bjork’s Oh it’s So Quiet and Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence.
This blog post has been re-published by kind permission of Peter Hartmann – View the original post