Smile Politely

Waking to a new soundscape

This morning in Champaign-Urbana, a few hundred freshmen are waking to an unfamiliar and unpleasant reality. For the first time in their lives, there’s a new soundscape to their living environment.

They’ve never noticed sound before. They’ve never known what it’s like to live between reverberating walls, bordering long hallways of clattering linoleum floors, below someone else.

For the first time in their lives, they sleep within spitting distance of a busy street, or actual country music.

In The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want, Garret Keizer recalls his first noise experience, also at a college dorm. It was party time for some of his neighbors, and sleepy time for him.

Because Wednesday is Scott Cochrane’s biggest sales night, a few hundred more freshmen will soon learn the joy of vicarious inebriation. (It’s more fun when you’re doing the partying yourself.)

Whatever the source of the noise, if it’s affecting your sleep or studies, don’t wait to do something about it. As Keizer confirms, acclimating to sound is an old wives tale:

In fact, the research is pretty conclusive in showing that noise is not something people get used to, unless one considers hearing loss a form of acclimation. Over time noise annoyance tends to increase, even when the loudness and duration do not, and even when reported complaints start dropping off. “People have stopped complaining” never means people have stopped suffering.

Transitioning to life away from home is plenty stressful enough. In a grade-competitive environment, you don’t need the extra diversion. If noise is consciously bothering you, it will either get worse or stop completely.

What can you do about it?

I made inquiries with University Housing. I was directed to Kirsten Ruby, whose title is assistant director of marketing.

“Students should start with their RA. Other resources include their resident director and the front desk of their hall. Students can also report misconduct of any kind by emailing [email protected].”

There’s a certain amount of personal capital required in lodging any kind of complaint about people. RA’s are not necessarily chosen for their understanding of liability issues. So if you’re concerned about your safety or reputation, go the anonymous route.

That covers noise you know annoys you. But noise can hurt even if you’re not aware of it. Noise spikes your blood pressure, even if it doesn’t wake you up.

Last week’s Journal of the American Medical Association reported that 1 in 5 American teenagers has some amount of hearing loss. Most people blame iPods. But that’s nothing to do with noise.

Noise is sound you can’t control and didn’t ask for, whereas the music on your iPod is fucking awesome.

More on this in the next installment.

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