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More than money, power, and even happiness, silence has become the most precious—and dwindling—commodity of our modern world. Between iPods, music-blasting restaurants, earsplitting sports stadiums, and endless air and road traffic, the place for quiet in our lives grows smaller by the day. In Pursuit of Silence gives context to our increasingly desperate sense that noise pollution is, in a very real way, an environmental catastrophe. Listening to doctors, neuroscientists, acoustical engineers, monks, activists, ...
More than money, power, and even happiness, silence has become the most precious—and dwindling—commodity of our modern world. Between iPods, music-blasting restaurants, earsplitting sports stadiums, and endless air and road traffic, the place for quiet in our lives grows smaller by the day. In Pursuit of Silence gives context to our increasingly desperate sense that noise pollution is, in a very real way, an environmental catastrophe. Listening to doctors, neuroscientists, acoustical engineers, monks, activists, educators, marketers, and aggrieved citizens, George Prochnik examines why we began to be so loud as a society, and what it is that gets lost when we can no longer find quiet. He shows us the benefits of decluttering our sonic world. As Prochnik travels across the United States and overseas, we meet a rich host of characters: an idealistic architect who is pioneering a new kind of silent architecture in collaboration with the Deaf community at Gallaudet University; a special operations soldier in Afghanistan (and former guitarist with Nirvana) who places silence at the heart of survival in war; a sound designer for shopping malls who ensures that the stores we visit never stop their auditory seductions; and a group of commuters who successfully revolted against piped-in music in Grand Central Station. A brilliant, far-reaching exploration of the frontiers of noise and silence, and the growing war between them, In Pursuit of Silence is an important book that will appeal to fans of Michael Pollan and Daniel Gilbert.
Excerpted from In Pursuit of Silence by George Prochnik Copyright © 2010 by George Prochnik. Excerpted by permission.
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Chapter 1 Listening for the Unknown 21
Chapter 2 Why We Hear 51
Chapter 3 Why We Are Noisy 69
Chapter 4 Retail: The Soundtrack 89
Chapter 5 Sounds Like Noise 106
Chapter 6 Silent Interlude 116
Chapter 7 Soundkill 125
Chapter 8 Freeway to Noise 155
Chapter 9 Home Front 170
Chapter 10 This Is War! 200
Chapter 11 The Dragon Trap 233
Chapter 12 Silent Finale 269
Author's Note 331
Living in New York City, I couldn't help being aware that almost everyone I knew hated the city's noisiness. But if everyone despises noise so much, why is there so much of it? And why do so many noise-haters also spend hours of the day with iPods in their ears, sleep next to loud air-conditioners, turn on televisions the moment they walk into a room, and crank up their car radios the moment they sit down behind the wheel?
We're never going to make progress toward creating a quieter world until we learn to understand our secret love affair with noise. Part of what we have to recognize is that noise is a compelling stimulant. This noise-high can be addictive and adding your own din into the mix can become a way of exerting control. Stepping back from all the stimulation is not easy, but it can be done. Rather than cutting out stimulation, I went searching for the kinds of sonic wonders that only become audible when we manage to quiet down the world around us.
Instead of being against noise, I think we need to begin making a case for silence. This means getting imaginative about expanding our understanding of silence in ways that develop associations between silence and a vibrant, fulfilling life. Anti-noise activists often compare noise pollution to air pollution. But unlike smoke, lots of noises are good, at least some of the time. Instead, we might frame noise as a dietary problem. Most of us absorb far too much sonic junk. We need to develop a more balanced sound diet in which silence, and sounds we associate with quiet states of mind, become part of our daily regimen.
My hope is that by making positive experiences of silence more broadly accessible, more people will be tempted to cultivate silence of their own volition. Who knows? If we manage to recover more quiet in the world, maybe people will even begin reading more books again-rediscovering what can be contained in a handful of silence. --George Prochnik