Sometime back in the nineties I became the ‘go-to-man’ for tinnitus.
At that time I was earning a living by creating mini-scores and dense soundscapes for the advertising industry. I was approached by the Central Office of Information; they wondered if I would like to participate in a series of radio ads warning the public about the dangers of noise at work.
The money was agreeable and the job was interesting. They gave me a video that had been previously circulated to factories and other noisy workplaces. The memory of it still gives me the horrors every time I encounter someone listening to loud, repetitive music though headphones. I live in a big city so you will be able to guess how often that is.
Like most people I thought that tinnitus was an irritating ringing in the ears. It is if you’re lucky. It can also be intermittent deafness.
Imagine a conversation where the sound cuts out every few seconds and you only hear fifty percent of what the other person is saying. The damaged inner ear can also make terrible screeching noises and buzzing sounds that the brain, seeking to make order out of chaos, can turn into voices. Such ‘voices’ would mirror the inner frustration of not being able to hear properly. These ‘voices’ would not say pleasant things.
There can also be a curious flattening of the sound plane where the sound of someone putting a glass on a table ten feet away is as loud as the dog barking at your feet. Need I also mention dizziness and the obvious effect on balance?
I focused on the task in hand, utilising the arcane skills of the sound designer to simulate the experience of the tinnitus sufferer. The fact that I was also someone who earned a living working with sound did not escape my attention and may indeed have spurred my arm. The campaign was deemed a success, later transferring to both cinema and TV.
The films showed the difference between working in loud conditions with, and without, headphones (better with). You will be happy to know that these matters are now regulated by Health and Safety. The ears of workers are protected by statute.
But the ears of the public are under no such protection.
When the whole carriage of a moving tube train can hear the leakage from someone’s flimsy earpieces there will be trouble brewing in that person’s natural hearing apparatus. The smug looking man sitting at the next table in a café wearing an expensive pair of padded phones and tapping his foot, could be listening to bone-crushing techno at an earsplitting volume.
I dread to think. Some might see happy people taking their rightful pleasure in a public space. I see a disaster waiting to happen.
The tobacco industry was, for many years, adept at concealing the health dangers of smoking. There may well be detailed research on the long term effects of self-determined, persistent, decibel abuse, but I am not aware of anyone making a fuss about it.
Nature has given us at least five valuable senses. They are intended firstly for survival and secondly for pleasure.
In my opinion the urban headphone user also makes an unnatural break in what is sometimes referred to as the Morphic Field. Scientists postulate that this invisible membrane of shared awareness is what holds together flocks of birds in flight or herds of animals alerted to imminent danger. The ‘I’m happy in my own little world of my favourite music’ section of the crowd, are clearly announcing to the rest of us that they do not care about the many potential problems encountered in the public thoroughfare.
They may fail to hear the sirens of police cars speeding though traffic, relying only on the green crossing light. They may also be ignoring important advice from concerned citizens such as ‘Get out of the way.’ or ‘Mind that hole in the ground’.
Perhaps some of the vast amount of public money that is spent on warning of the, as yet unproven, threat to public health from ‘passive smoking’ could be diverted to the cause of spreading information about the very real threat from casual headphone abuse.
If we are dancing our way through the dangers of life it is better that we do it together. The nightmare threat of tinnitus should serve as a constant reminder that we are foolish to break step.
Image: imagerymajestic/FreeDigitalPhotos.netBritish Tinnitus Organisation