Noise

I am vexed by noise. Sirens. Construction. Car horns. Loud motorcycles. Screaming children. Yelling drunks. Crazy people. Subwoofers. PA systems. Cell phones. It is not an exaggeration to say that noise interrupts my thoughts dozens of times a day. Even though I wear earplugs or IEMs, noises regularly interrupt, distract, or otherwise bother me.

These annoyances drastically affect my quality of life. Every interruption forces me to rebuild my train of thought, sapping time and willpower. The lost time adds up to hours every week. I seem to be more sensitive to distracting noise than most, but noise affects everyone to some extent.

This is a bigger problem than most people realize. Take a typical example of noise pollution: Riding a loud Harley around San Francisco. It affects thousands of people. Though most are only slightly bothered, the damage is significant in aggregate. The end result is equivalent to the Harley rider running around, blasting an air horn near random people. We put up with the former but would never tolerate the latter. Certain sounds seem to be grandfathered-in as acceptable.

It is crazy that our society tolerates so much unnecessary noise. Having been to other countries, I can say the US isn’t the worst when it comes to noise, but could be improved significantly. Japan is the best example I’ve experienced.[1] Their social mores heavily censure noise, and the result is sublime. You can go on a train and not be annoyed. There is no music being played out of a cell phone. There are no one-sided phone conversations. Few converse, and those who do are quiet and respectful. If we moved closer to those norms, I doubt anyone would want to go back to the status quo.

It does confuse me that many people aren’t as annoyed by noise as I am. I fear Paul Graham’s hypothesis is right: People aren’t annoyed because they don’t have inner thoughts to interrupt.


  1. Sound trucks excluded, of course.


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