When Did Loud Become Equivalent To Fun?

Do you think the world is getting louder? I sure do. Movies, sporting events, restaurants, even walking down the street — all louder than it used to be. I guess I am getting older, so that could be part of it, but I also think that culturally, loud has become the norm. If things aren’t loud, they are somehow deemed old-fashioned, or boring, or dull. It’s almost as if loud has become equivalent to fun! That is a problem given the misunderstood risks of hearing loss from exposure to loud sounds. Hearing loss is permanent — there is currently no cure — and the associated tinnitus (ringing in the ears) can almost be worse.

The anecdotal evidence is everywhere. A friend of mine was at the movies last week with her children to see Cinderella and couldn’t believe how loud the previews were, let alone the movie. And it was a children’s movie! She eventually asked the theater to turn down the volume, but I’m not sure she had much luck.

I have had the same experience at a Broadway show. I took my children to see Wicked (a fabulous show by the way!) but it was incredibly loud! Much louder than I remember Broadway being. Even my 9-year old son, was holding his ears at certain parts until I found the earplugs I always keep stashed in my purse.

Studies have shown that when loud music is played at restaurants and bars, patrons eat and drink faster, and therefore purchase more drinks, the highest margin part of the meal. I can understand wanting to drive revenue, but putting your patrons and staff in harm’s way is not a good option. Shouldn’t there be rules and guidelines advising restaurants and other public venues on safe levels of sound?

There have even been loudness contests at sporting venues. I think the current record is held by the Kansas City Chiefs at 142 decibels. This is equivalent to the sound of a jet taking off and can damage hearing in less than 1 minute of exposure. The irony is that most stadiums don’t allow smoking any longer due to strict second-hand smoking laws. What about second-hand hearing loss?

All this loudness is very frustrating for someone with hearing loss. Not only does it make it incredibly unpleasant to be out and about, but it makes it unsafe for others, oftentimes without their knowledge. We need to continue to educate employers, government officials, schools and our friends and families about the risks of hearing damage. And especially our children.

Readers, how can we help change the view that things need to be loud in order to be fun?

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4 thoughts on “When Did Loud Become Equivalent To Fun?

  1. I have had no hearing in my right ear since I was sixteen (40 years ago!), but have near-perfect hearing in my left ear. I used to joke about being “half deaf,” and dismiss it as a nuisance rather than a true handicap. That has changed over the past several years.
    Last February, I realized over the course of a single weekend that loud environments were not only irritating, but suddenly intensely painful. Restaurants and movie theaters are the worst. I do understand the need for increased revenue, and that unlike providing wheelchair ramps, reducing the volume of the music or veering towards more sound-absorbing architecture affects everyone in their restaurant and thereby their bottom line. Those of us who are sensitive to noise are too few and too unlikely to advocate for ourselves to represent a significant loss of business.
    But it is intensely frustrating to find myself unable to find a restaurant where I can easily follow the conversation, even if only with a single individual, much less get through a meal without wincing or covering my ears at sudden bombardments of loud sounds. It can reduce me to tears. I have learned to be assertive in requesting the quietest table available, but there is no guarantee that a noisy group will promptly sit down next to me. There are restaurants that I would like to patronize but simply cannot.
    I found it very interesting this Spring when my daughter and I spent a month in Germany. Over the course of the entire month I cannot remember (and we were paying attention!) a single incident when I felt overwhelmed by noise in a German restaurant. The ceilings were lower, the furniture upholstered, and for the most part the conversations were quiet. It was heavenly, and the return to normality when we arrived back in Denver and stopped for dinner at Red Robin was a (not unexpected) shock.
    Why is American culture so loud? And how do we earn young – and not-so-young – people of the harm we are doing to ourselves?

    1. Shari Eberts – NYC – Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of "We Hear You," an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, "Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss," (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues.
      Living With Hearing Loss says:

      Thanks for sharing your experiences. I completely agree and have had the same experience overseas. I hope if we all continue to speak out on this issue things will eventually change here in the US.

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