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First Coast Connect

With All Due Respect: Listen Up!


Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?If you think about it, you’ll probably agree it’s a question we’re all asking more and more. Because more and more we’re in noisier and noisier environments that make both sides of a conversation nearly impossible.

In fact, we can permanently damage our hearing just going through our normal routines.

Like secondhand smoke, noise damage insidiously creeps up on us. That’s especially worrying regarding children and young people who take their noisy backgrounds for granted — not to mention the damage they do by sticking ear buds driven by mp3 players and the like into their auditory canals.

A quick fact from the national institutes of health: 85 decibels, cafeteria noise for example, can cause hearing damage — and a personal stereo at maximum volume is 20 decibels higher.

Counting decibels is not like miles per hour — going up 20 decibels means it’s 20 times louder. And of course, the longer you listen, like more than 15 minutes, the greater the damage potential.

Individuals are one thing, but there is aural onslaught en masse in the social settings of our lives. It’s interesting that in attending a play there is little if any amplification and yet competent actors make each word understandable. Watching the typical movie, meanwhile, can be a savage assault on the ears, projecting the highest volume of combined special effects, music and dialogue exploding through technically advanced mega powered speakers able to shake the cinder block walls of any cineplex.

Still, movies are for watching – conversation should come later.

Where the noise seems most pervasive is the restaurant scene. It’s hard to avoid the clinking of silverware, glasses and plates – no foul there – but there”s been a deliberate effort to create an experience that is less about food and more about a perception that we’re all having a great time. Noise is a leading ingredient in that recipe – check it out, voices rising, music, sounds of cocktails being shaken, cooks yelling orders as they bang pans in the open kitchen. All this bounces off high ceilings, mirrors, flat walls, windows, stone counters, concrete floors and bare tabletops.

Missing are the carpets and draperies and comfortable upholstered chairs of your daddy’s steakhouse. Also gone are conversations unless one yells,  and adds to the noise. obviously that’s what some want – a high energy millennial infusion spiked with dollops of excitement and animation.

Perhaps younger people don’t care about noise because they’re always texting anyway. I understand patrons wanting “trendy” and businesses wanting to please, but when i go to a restaurant, I want a relaxed experience built around friends being able to enjoy each other.

At the bare minimum that means talking and being understood without shouting. Instead, i consistently have evenings ruined by noise levels that are actually painful.

I’m not alone.... a recent nationwide survey found 70 percent of the 8,5oo people polled found restaurant noise levels to be the number-one irritant about dining out -- far more aggravating than service or price.

Many such unhappy customers are posting their gripes on social media, deducting a star on Yelp for example. I think that’s a healthy trend.

Reviews can be influential. I also think we consumers have to be proactive. I try to check potential noise issues before going to a new place and I’ve become less shy about asking for a different table or requesting that background music be turned down or speaking to a manager when warranted.

Want to learn more about saving your ears? check out “noisy planet” from the national institutes of health on line. You hear me?

With all due respect, I’m Jay Solomon.

Jay Solomon is a retired broadcast executive and an occasional contributor to First Coast Connect.