by Kim Pederson…….
It’ everywhere, it’s everywhere! No, I’m not talking about Chicken Man. That’s “he’s everywhere, he’s everywhere!” I’m talking about noise pollution, one of the banes of living in developed societies that can drive you not just literally but actually crazy. You likely know what I’m talking about and if not, here’s the definition: noise pollution is “disturbing or excessive noise that may harm the activity or balance of human or animal life.”
So what does noise pollution–generated outdoors mostly by machines, transportation systems, motor vehicles, airplanes, and trains–do to humans? It can, as I said, drive you crazy. It can also raise your blood pressure, increase your stress, cause tinnitus or hearing loss, and disturb your sleep. Animals suffer negative effects from it, too, in some cases even more than we do.
Can we escape noise pollution? Outside of sticking ear plugs in or wearing one of those noise-reducing headsets that airport baggage handlers sport, it seems impossible. Or so I thought until I heard a story titled “Enter the Quiet Zone” begin on NPR. My hopes were quickly dashed, however. The subtitle to the piece is “Where Cell Service, WiFi Are Banned.” Shoot.
My auditory disappointment aside, the story focuses on the National Radio Quiet Zone, “a 13,000-square-mile area that covers the eastern half of West Virginia.” As Elise Hu reports, it’s where smartphones go to die (or at least lose all signal). So do most broadcast radio stations. The quiet zone is there to protect the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope. Telescopes like these collect energy waves from stars and even gases and need extreme electromagnetic quietude to do their job properly.
People who live in the NRQZ rely on landline dial-up telephones (and even working phone booths) to get in touch with each other. No cellphones. No WiFi. For some people, this is more of an attraction than a hindrance, especially those who believe they’ve been made ill by WiFi and mobile phones, i.e., those afflicted with the Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) symptoms of acute headaches, skin burning, muscle twitching, and chronic pain.
As a Wired article notes, the NRQZ is nearly free of electromagnetic pollution.” One woman, according to NPR’s Mark Memmott, moved there from Iowa. In the latter state, she only got relief from her EHS when she climbed inside a small wooden enclosure covered with two layers of wire mesh…hmm. I guess that means tinfoil hats don’t work anymore.
It’s too bad the quiet zone is not really quiet. While getting away from countless cellphone conversations going on around you would reduce noise pollution a bit, it’s no panacea for the general malady. There’s only one way to get a little peace, really, and it’s time, in my view, to invoke it. Agent 99? Lower the Cone of Silence!
* Photo by By Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez – Own work, Public Domain.
Visit Kim Pederson’s blog RatBlurt: Mostly Random Short-Attention-Span Musings.