18 November 2012


I have a thing for peace and quiet.  I seek it, I cultivate it, and at times I insist upon it.

I live in an apartment complex made up of efficiency apartments sandwiched together, with neighbors on both sides and above.  Many of the residents are university students, so during the seven years I've lived here, neighbors have come and gone.  Each time someone moves in, they bring their particular noise habits (e.g., music, heavy footfalls, loud conversation, slamming cabinet doors) with them.  Sometimes I get lucky ~ a new neighbor enjoys quiet as much as I do (and extends equal courtesy to those who live beyond our shared, thin walls.

More often, new residents choose to ignore the apartment management's rules of conduct, apparently feeling entitled to play music at disturbing levels during quiet hours, or to party loudly when others are trying to sleep or simply read a book.  Thus it falls upon me (apparently one of the few quieter residents assertive enough to object) to knock on the oblivious person's door and explain that he/she is disrupting my life, and the lives of everyone else who lives there.

I'm always soft-spoken and courteous, but also clear and insistent.  Sometimes one visit is enough ~ the person graciously apologizes, problem solved.  More often, I'm met with indifference or hostility.  Thus when a second offense occurs, I feel no qualms about calling the police with a noise complaint ~ and will do so thereafter every time I'm disturbed by that person.  There's the further avenue of filing an official noise complaint with the apartment manager.  A letter in the mail from the manager is usually sufficient to get the attention of even the most obtuse tenant.

Inconsiderate noise isn't limited to where I live.  How often have we been subjected to overly-loud cell phone conversations in public places ~ theaters, airplanes, stores, even public libraries?  How often have we had to endure the tinny cacophony of music emanating from the ear buds of someone's iPod?  (And just think, if the music is that loud to us, what kind of ear drum damage is being inflicted on the wearer?)

And don't even get me started on barking dogs and screaming children.  I realize that ultimately the fault rests with the owner/parent.  Still.

It has been documented that with our plethora of gadgets and the explosion in our numbers, it is becoming more and more difficult to find privacy and quiet.  Even more sadly, we are adjusting our expectations to accommodate the uproar, rather than insisting that the uproar be muted.

I know I'm not alone in feeling this way.  In fact, I was delighted to discover Tim Kreider's article entitled The Quiet Ones in today's NYTimes.  Consider this exerpt, and you'll understand ~

"Ever since I quit hanging out in Baltimore dive bars, the only place where I still regularly find myself in hostile confrontations with my fellow man is Amtrak's Quiet Car.  The Quiet Car, in case you don't know, is usually the first car in Amtrak's coach section, right behind business class.  Loud talking is forbidden there ~ any conversations are to be conducted in whispers.  Cellphones off ~ music and movies on headphones only.  There are little signs hanging from the ceiling of the aisle that explain this, along with a finger-to-lips icon.  The conductor usually makes an announcement explaining the protocol.  Nevertheless I often see people who are ignorant of the Quiet Car's rules take out their cellphones to resume their endless conversation, only to get a polite but stern talking-to from a fellow passenger.

" .... In a 2006 interview David Foster Wallace said, 'it seems significant that we don't want things to be quiet, ever, anymore.'  Stores and restaurants have their ubiquitous Muzak or satellite radio.  Bars have anywhere between 1 and 17 TVs blaring Fox and soccer. Ads and 30-second news cycles play on screens in cabs, elevators, and restrooms.  Even some libraries, whose professional shushers were once celebrated in cartoon and sitcom, now have music and special segregated areas designated for 'quiet study', which is what a library used to be.

" .... People are louder, too.  They complain at length and in detail about their divorces or gallbladders a foot away from you in restaurants.  A dreaded Amtrak type is the passenger who commences prattling on her cellphone the instant she sits down and doesn't hang up until she gets to her stop, unable to bear an undistracted instant of her own company.  People practice rap lyrics on the bus or the subway, barking doggerel along with their iPods as though they were alone in the shower.  Respecting shared public space is becoming as quaintly archaic as tipping your hat to a lady, now that the concept of public space is nearly as extinct as hats, and ladies.

" .... It's a pathology that seems increasingly common, I suspect in part because people now spend so much time in the solipsist's paradise of the Internet that they carry its illusion of invisible (and inaudible) omniscience back with them into the real world.

" .... Those of us who despise this tendency don't have a voice, or a side, let alone anything like a lobby.  There are anti-noise-pollution groups, but they can fight only limited skirmishes over local nuisances ~ the war is lost.  It's impossible to be heard when your whole position is quiet now that all public discourse has become a shouting match.  Being an advocate of quiet in our society is as quixotic and ridiculous as being an advocate of beauty or human life or any other unmonetizable commodity.

"And so the volume has incrementally risen, the imbecilic din encroaching on one place after another ~ mass transit, waiting rooms, theaters, museums, the library ~ until this last bastion of civility and calm, the Quiet Car, has become the battlefield where we quiet ones, our backs forced to the wall, finally hold our ground.  The Quiet Car is the Thermopylae, the Masada, the Fort McHenry of quiet ~ which is why the regulars are so quick with prepared reproaches, more than ready to make a Whole Big Thing out of it, and why, when the outsiders invariably sit down and start in with their autonomic blather, they often find themselves surrounded by a shockingly hostile mob of professors, old ladies, and four-eyes who look ready to take it outside.

" .... We're a tribe, we quiet ones, we readers and thinkers and letter writers, we daydreamers and gazers out of windows.  We are a civil people, courteous to excess, who disdain displays of anger as childish and embarrassing.  But the Quiet Car is our territory, the last reservation to which we've been driven.  And we can be pushed too far.  Our message to the barbarians who would barge into our haven with their chatter and blatting gadgets like so many bulldozers is ~

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