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Posted by on Mar 2, 2011 in Books, This is Broken | 2 comments

Sound you can’t unhear

Remember this?

I’ve had the same thing happen to me with sound this week. I’m researching for my chapter on elephants and infrasound and have read a lot about sound pollution and the constant noise that surrounds us.  This awareness isn’t entirely new to me. I’ve had growing a pet peeve about the constant barrage of noise that hits us everywhere we go anymore. Not just the background noise of traffic and crowds and airplanes, but the intentional noise — radios and televisions in restaurants, doctor offices, malls, and even at the gas pump.


But now it’s worse.  I’m reading Zero decibels : the quest for absolute silence by George Michelsen Foy.  After snapping on a noisy subway platform (something I can certainly relate to) Foy sets off with a decibel meter in search of silence. Discouragingly, I’m halfway through the book and he hasn’t even come close.  Not with the noise-cancelling headphones, not in the sensory deprivation chamber, certainly not in his apartment at 3am.  And now that he’s told me what his decibel meter reads and what he can still hear, I hear it too. All the time.

I’m sitting here in my diningroom, home alone. It’s quiet. Or not.

The refrigerator hums. My laptop fan breathes steadily. The thermostat clicks on and the furnace rumbles to life.  The blinds over the heat duct are ticking against the wall. If  I listen more closely, I can hear a low rhythmic pulse which I take to be the ceiling fan in the bedroom.  A faucet drips. Through the closed windows, outdoors seems quiet except for a bit of wind and the occasional passing car…but no. There is a distant hum. Traffic on the 401? Maybe. Or just cars in nearby neighborhoods. Either way, it doesn’t stop.


Thanks Mr. Foy. I oughta knock your block off!


  1. because appliance manufacturers are responding to consumer complaints about appliance noise, efforts are being made to build quieter appliances …. in our highly consumer oriented society/culture, changes often only seem to happen when there is a monetary profit to be gained by the company

    here’s a link to an hvac/r (heating, ventilation, air conditioning, refrigeration) industry publication website to an article about noise reduction

  2. I bought a new motorized water fountain the other day for the cats. Everyone on Amazon raved about how quiet the motor was on this particular model, and not wanting to hear the loud grinding sound every time the water level was low like the last fountain, I decided that all things being equal, this was a strong selling point. Apparently everyone who owns this cat fountain is deaf – which I believe is something they should have been required to disclose before commenting – because this fountain has an audible hum at a frequency which I cannot ignore. It makes me wonder how loud the world is to a cat.

    In other news, I guess this doesn’t count as total silence, but it’s still pretty cool:

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