The past weekend must have been an informal welcoming of spring on the Stanford campus, because every dorm on campus seemed to be having a party. The parties were generally out of doors and included a band. The bands were delivering contemporary dance music through the now standard large amplification and speaker systems. Our house is quite close to several dorms, so we once again had an opportunity to cower inside our house with our earplugs in and experience the joy of relentlessly repetitively sounds at a volume well in excess of the county rules on decibel levels.
The good news, is that the music masked the noise generated by automobile and truck traffic, airplanes (especially private ones and the helicopter owned by our hospital), the myriad of two-cycle engines employed by the gardeners in the area, and the construction equipment that seems to have resided on campus for the past ten years. I couldn’t help again thinking about the change in noise level on the campus and in our increasingly urban world during the time I have been at Stanford.
In particular, I notice the increase in noise from the growth in numbers and power of amplifiers and speakers. In the summer Stanford hosts a number of “sports camps” for kids, and the leaders of these groups are all equipped with amplified speakers to communicate with them. This might seem reasonable, since the kids make a lot of noise, but the leaders used to just tell them to be quiet when they needed to do so. My office on campus is beneath a large classroom, and the classroom is equipped with an amplification system. Teachers and guest speakers use these to talk to the students, and to those of us who have the dubious pleasure of listening to them through the air circulation system even though we are totally uninterested in what they have to say. I certainly never needed an amplification system to talk to a class. The bands performing in the dorms seem to need the requisite amplifiers, mixers and speaker systems made popular by rock bands, even though such bands had no difficulty making themselves heard with much less amplification when I first came here.
It seems that people love amplifiers. If the type of amplifier/speaker used by coaches (the modern megaphone) is lying around, people will pick it up, turn it to high, walk up to a friend from behind, and yell at them with it. If an amplifier and speaker system is in a classroom (often to provide sound for video or other media material) people will use it to amplify their own voices. If a band has a rack of speakers and amplifiers, they will turn them up to a level that has been shown to adversely affect the hearing of the audience if they are subjected to it over time. Both band and audience seem to enjoy it, but the band members typically are wearing ear plugs (musicians are careful of their hearing) and those trying to study, listen to their own music, or live in a nearby house may not.
Granted that I am old and grouchy, behind on my pop music, and complaining about things that other people enjoy or that are an output of work others think necessary (gardeners and construction crews), but for the sake of all of us, since we are heading into ever increasing population density, noise has to be controlled. It has happened with automobiles and motorcycles. When I was in high school, it was prestigious to run ones vehicles with minimal muffling. If you are old enough, you remember “cut out pipes”, that allowed the driver to divert the exhaust straight from the engine, bypassing the muffler altogether. I wondered what the result would be of clamping down on motorcycle noise, but the owners actually came to believe that a very fast and quiet machine was cool, except for a few who are now thought to be merely obnoxious. Campus leaf blowers are now all electric, powered by a gas generator, which being four cycle is much quieter than the two-cycle commonly used on yard machines. Large diesel driven machines have not quite gotten the message yet, but they will. And even as I write this, there is a campaign underway on campus to do something about bands at parties.
But what is going to happen when Amazon and other organizations flood the atmosphere with noisy drones? Drones carrying significant weight and traveling relatively long distances are not going to be electrically powered for a long while.