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Train in pain: are noise-filled carriages bad for your health?

South West Trains have announced they are considering scrapping the ‘quiet zones’ on their carriages
End of the line ... South West Trains is considering scrapping the ‘quiet zones’ in its carriages. Photograph: Alamy

Seven years. That’s the minimum prison sentence that should apply to people on public transport who listen to music through their phone speakers (also known as “sodcasting”) – with two years for banal phone conversations that never end.

For many, the news that South Western Railways is thinking of getting rid of quiet carriages will not be music to their ears (but, probably, in the end, will mean precisely that).

Some people think quietness is overrated. They can focus come what may: screaming babies; thumping house music; people texting with keyboard clicks on (still? In 2017?). Why do some of us need quiet but others don’t? Is the world getting quieter or louder?

Psychotherapist and writer Philippa Perry suggests that we are becoming frightened of quietness, possibly as a result of technology. “Blocking out the quiet seemed to start with transistor radios, then Sony Walkmans, so that your whole life – if you wanted – could have a soundtrack. You’d walk in the crowd with your earphones on and feel like you were the star of your own movie.”

Now, there’s the added background buzz of message notifications, muzak in shops and 24-hour news. We exist in a soundscape of competing bleeps and pings and BPMs. There’s comfort to this, Perry says. “We are social beings and quiet means we are isolated and no one can survive alone for too long.”

But it’s also possible that too much chatter could be detrimental to our wellbeing. “Don’t we sometimes have to have our own thoughts and become aware of the swoosh of our blood and the rhythm of our pulse and notice our breathing? Do we need quiet to feel connected to ourselves, our themes and our moods and our thoughts?” asks Perry.

The healthiest type of noise, Perry suggests, could be the back-to-basics crunch of leaves underfoot; birds singing; the patter of raindrops. Nature. Or anything soothing. Certainly not Despacito on the bus during rush hour.

This article titled "Train in pain: are noise-filled carriages bad for your health?" was written by Hannah Jane Parkinson, for The Guardian on Wednesday 6 December 2017 04.45pm

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