Spend a day walking the downtown streets of almost any city, and odds are, you've just gone over the government's safety recommendations for exposure to noise. Everywhere, we're blasted by sound--traffic, construction, passing radios, TVs blaring and the constant ring of cellphones. And none of it is quite enough to drown out the sound of airplanes passing overhead.
The simple truth is, that ringing noise in your ears shouldn't be there.
We're not talking about complete silence; that can actually drive you insane. "I heard two sounds," wrote composer John Cage of his time in an anechoic chamber, a room completely free of reverberations and outside noise, "one high and one low." When he asked the engineer in charge what was going on, the man said, "The high one was your nervous system in operation. The low one was your blood in circulation."
Who wants to hear that?
What we need is not a complete absence of sound, but to be in places that sound the way the world did before iPods and leaf blowers were invented. But quiet is still out there, ready to be found. Around the world remain places--quite accessible places--where the constant din of civilization simply drops away.
Go far enough in the middle of nowhere, of course, and things get pretty quiet. Mongolia's Gobi Desert, or Africa's Kalihari Desert are both almost entirely free of human-created sound (as well as being startlingly beautiful). These places whisper like the last words of a bedtime story.
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