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Photo: Jonathon Pendleton


Is it time to take silence more seriously?

Restaurants are as loud as pneumatic drills, and no-one can concentrate in their open plan offices. But slowly, the benefits of silence are being recognised

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By Emily Baker on

The world is getting louder and louder. Physical noise fills every space – on the train we listen to podcasts, in the office we listen to other people’s music, at home we listen to the TV, or the building site down the road on a Saturday morning when we’re meant to be having a lie in. It seems almost impossible to escape.

Scientifically, a human voice at normal conversation level sits at around 60 decibels and anything higher than this could cause permanent hearing damage should you be exposed to it for longer than 15 minutes. However, earlier this year, a journalist took a decibel meter into a high street restaurants and found some of them to be as loud as sitting next to a pneumatic drill.  According to the research, the louder the restaurant, the more people strive to make themselves heard over the din – it’s a never ending cycle of noise.

It’s not just nights out either, we now have to suffer constant noise from our coworkers, thanks to the rise of open plan offices. According to research by the University of California, workers in an open plan office can’t concentrate on a task for more than three minutes at a time, thanks to constant distractions and interruptions. In most situations this would be an advantage, as humans are designed to be aware of their surroundings and to interact with the world around them. But when you have one hour to write a 2,000 word report, what Carol had for dinner last night is not only irrelevant – it’s downright irritating.

But silence is important. Research proves that taking time out to sit in silence can have tangible health benefits - anyone who has ever sat next to a loud chewer will know that too much noise can cause stress levels to rise, which in biological terms means your blood pressure increases. Exposure to high levels of sound can indirectly lead to health complications such as heart attacks. In fact the World Health Organisation in fact deems noise pollution to be the second biggest threat to public health after air pollution.

Thankfully, there are now signs that silence is being taken more seriously. This September Marc Jacobs ushered in the new era of silence in his Spring Summer 18 show, when he sent models down the runway to no music whatsoever. The click-clack of their heels was the only thing to be heard, as the fashion crowd respected the occasion and kept silent themselves. By giving nothing to comment on other than the clothes themselves, Jacobs had focused his audience, forcing them to be in the moment and most importantly – paying attention. What a lovely thought.

The World Health Organisation deems noise pollution to be the second biggest threat to public health after air pollution

More people are willing to pay for silence too. All over the country silent spas and retreats are popping up, catering to the wellness generation by offering a much needed respite from the modern world and its endless noise. Celebrities obviously clocked onto the trend pretty quickly, with Gisele Bundchen reported as spending three days in total silence and “going inward” in Costa Rica and Emma Watson getting over a breakup with a week-long vow of silence in Canada.

Silence, however, can’t always be the solution to everything – there’s nothing worse than an uncomfortable silence following a joke, or a question, or anything really – and conversely, there’s not always something wrong with all sound. I find a bustle around me, in a coffee shop or on a train, helps me to concentrate on the book I’m reading. But there’s no denying the splendidness of silence. When I get out of the shower in the morning, I spend a couple of minutes before I get ready lying on my bed, staring at the wall. Admittedly, this is half laziness, but in those silent minutes I have nothing in my head, nothing to panic about, nothing to chastise myself for. Then, I play a podcast while I do my make-up and the noise of the day begins.



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Photo: Jonathon Pendleton
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