“Silence has become the ultimate luxury,” writes The New Republic’s Chloe Schama.
Unwanted noise is perhaps the most irksome form of sensory assault. A bothersome sight? Close your eyes or turn the other way—eyesores are, generally, immobile. An annoying taste? Spit it out. (Why was it in your mouth?) Sound, on the other hand, is ambient, elusive, enveloping. Even the softest drone can echo cacophonously if it worms itself into your head. Ulysses was not seduced by the sight of the sirens. Poe’s telltale heart does not torment with its smell. “Noise is the most impertinent of all forms of interruption,” groused the nineteenth-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. “It is not only an interruption, but also a disruption of thought.”
Noise ranks as the number one gripe of restaurant-goers nationally according to a Zagat survey, and it is the complaint submitted to New York City’s 311 hotline with the greatest frequency. (From 2012 to 2013, noise-related calls to 311 increased 16 percent according to noise activist Arlene Bronzaft.) Even if these complaints are just cyclical resurgences of an age-old problem—the ancient Greek colony Sybaris mandated that certain noisy tradesmen (potters, tinsmiths) had to live outside the city walls; Elizabethan men couldn’t beat their wives past 10 p.m.—we seem to be dealing with it differently. From noise-canceling headphones to the popularity of silent retreats, there has never been quite so great a premium placed on silence. And not only do we value it in a general sense, we’re willing to pay for it.
Today’s Question: Where do you find peace and quiet?