There are two types of noise, and as I seek a simpler life, I’m trying to come to terms with both.
The word “noise” derives from the Latin “nausea.” For most people, noise is any unpleasant or discordant sound. In this college town, noise frequently means the sound that students make when they have a party late at night. The police get a lot of “noise complaints” every weekend.
But this kind of noise rarely bothers me. Although I live close to several student houses, they tend not to host wild late-night parties. My sleep is more vulnerable to students talking outside, which is not something you call the police over. Instead of getting riled up over this, we bought a white-noise machine and turn it on before bedtime on weekends in September, October, April and May. Problem solved.
The noise that is more irritating to me comes from barking dogs and enormous lawnmowers. I’ve slowly come to realize that this is just part of living in a community. To be totally free of neighbors’ noise, you have to be seriously wealthy or live out in the country. I’m not rich and like living so close to town that I can easily bicycle there.
I don’t always succeed at this, but I’m trying to be generous to my noise-making neighbors, and realize that they just have different values than I do. Maybe they think that my lawn-less property is a blight on the neighborhood, or don’t like my occasional chainsaw use. Rather than get angry at noise, I’m looking for adaptations, like putting on ear protection, turning on loud rock music (making my own noise!) or taking a bike ride. I remember that in not using a lawnmower, I’m the unusual one.
There’s another kind of noise, which I would define as unwanted distractions. This is related to the computer-science definition of noise as meaningless data occurring along with desired information. In physics, “noise” means irregular fluctuations that accompany an electrical signal but are not part of it and tend to obscure it.
The most obvious type of this noise in everyday life is advertising. I read that the average person is exposed to 287 branding or commercial messages a day. We rarely watch commercial TV, and mute the ads when we do, but they’re getting harder to avoid on the Internet. Because we are trying to de-emphasize buying stuff, we try to ignore them.
There’s another kind of unwanted distraction that’s more difficult to avoid. This is the accumulation of hurts and inhibitions that most people accumulate over the course of their lives, and prevent us from living life to the fullest. For example, I skipped first grade, and was always behind my classmates, socially and academically, and never did well in school. I developed a fear of classrooms, which to this day makes it difficult for me to attend workshops on subjects I’m interested in.
To truly enjoy the simple life, I’m trying to tune out the noise.