Noise as a Weapon of War

The noise generated by new technologies, such as television, radio and internet, has infiltrated every corner of society, from the bedroom to the street, cafes and public venues.

Central Park was opened in 1859 to give New Yorkers a refuge from the din of the city - the noise of its factories and the clatter of horse-drawn carriages. The result was an enclave of pastoral bliss in the heart of a fast-developing metropolis.

In the more than 150 years since that attempt to reconcile modernization and tranquillity, the relationship between technology and the private space has changed dramatically. Radio, television, the telephone and the Internet have all helped the public arena infiltrate the private space. The noise generated by these items have infiltrated every corner of society, from the bedroom to the street, cafes and public venues. And there is also a bevy of useful but loud machines, modes of transportation, and industrial and maintenance equipment. These innovations - created to help transfer information or perform essential functions - have themselves become nuisances.

In 2010, Israelis are also beginning to realize that the public is becoming increasingly subjected to earsplitting sounds. Bellowing street-cleaning vehicles and motorized gardening tools, as well as deafening music emanating from homes, are some of the main reasons behind the Environmental Protection Ministry's recent proposal to enact noise-pollution legislation.

The bill presents an opportunity to further discuss the place of noise in modern life. Alongside its undeniable advantages, the use of electricity creates daily disturbances in even the most intimate of spaces. One person's noise forces others to create their own, thus encouraging people to isolate themselves - both physically and mentally.

Many examples of this phenomenon can be found. Choosing a restaurant is not always related to the menu, but often to the volume of the music there. Talking on a mobile phone while walking down the street or using public transportation forces everyone within earshot to take part, however unwillingly, in the speaker's private life. On many a night I have overheard intimate conversations coming from the building next door, the details of which have both embarrassed and amused me. The neighbor who regards his home as his fortress and his sound system as his defensive shield would be in for quite a surprise.

The double-paned windows in many apartments and the 50-pack earplugs sold at pharmacies testify to society's difficulties in dealing with the auditory pressures it has brought upon itself. The new bill may limit the labor hours for maintenance workers and reduce the noise created by gardeners and construction workers, but it does not address the wider problem of lack of consideration and the fact that noise can easily turn into a weapon of war. Drivers who honk their car horns are waging an assault on everyone around. Young people who speak as loud as they can in public parks in the early morning are violating the brief and precious nocturnal cease-fire. Implementing legislation to lower the volume on these activities will not solve the problem; instead, we need to raise awareness of this kind of aggressive, provocative behavior.