In seeking to create a quiet space around me, I feel increasingly assaulted by the piped in noise in every public space I come to. I'm sure we've all heard the rants against blaring TVs in airports and at gas stations. But what about restaurants, grocery stores, telephones on hold, and other places? I took the kids to a movie last Saturday at a recently built outdoor shopping complex, and was annoyed by the strategically placed speakers along the street, pumping some generic rhythmic music toward my ankles, as if my feet could be hustled along by the latest pop star. It seems not even the sidewalk is safe anymore. Don't get me wrong -- I love my iPod with an immoral love, and having my personal tunes with me has been a salvation on more than one occasion. But in those circumstances I am in charge of the genre, volume, and company with whom I share said music. And I am amazed, sometimes, how turning a noise source off -- even sweet classical music -- can bring a sense of relief, as if the music has been literally pressing uncomfortably against me.
I understand the marketing behind a fast beat, or the idea that people feel more festive in a musical atmosphere. But there are times when all it does is jangle the nerves and raise the volume. Attending a recent birthday celebration at a restaurant, I asked the staff to lower the music. No one else in my party could hear the drum beat that caught my attention, but, particularly since it was jazz and not rhythmic, it played into the frantic interactions at the table. Once off, everyone slowed down, and throughout the restaurant people quieted and eased back a little in their chairs.
As an armchair anthropologist, I wondered how many of our daily interactions would ease a little if we didn't have the added element of someone else's idea of tunes. My three-year-old daughter understands this -- when she's grumpy, she orders me to turn off the radio. The quiet soothes her, and often I, too, find myself winding down to the sweet sound of nothing.