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The Quiet Ones (nytimes.com)
807 points by wallflower on Nov 18, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 382 comments

My life has been a search for quiet for as long as I can remember.

I think the fundamental problem with noisy people is not that they're inconsiderate, but that they don't have any train of thought to interrupt, and they thus don't realize the havoc they're wreaking.

When I was living in Providence, working on On Lisp, I told my loud but well-meaning neighbors that I was writing a hard computer book, and that made them be quiet. Ordinary people can understand that you need quiet if you're working on some specific, hard task, like doing math homework. What they don't grasp is that someone would want their mind to work that way all the time, as a matter of course.

I keep late hours in part because, once everyone else goes to bed -- not just housemates but my entire town -- everything becomes still and quiet, and in that stillness I'm finally able to think more deeply, more clearly, about anything.

You've probably already had your fill of argument for the day, but I think that assuming that noisy people don't have a train of thought to interrupt is a little bit uncharitable. (I'm assuming the best interpretation of what you said, which is that they don't have a train of thought while they're being noisy.) I've met enough people who can think and consider things while maintaining a non-stop chatter that now I think it's just another of those quirks of personality: I require solitude to think about things, they do not.

This reminds me of an anecdote from Feynman about what sorts of mental things he could and could not do while counting seconds, and how it was different for different people. His counting was internally verbal and he could do anything that didn't require him to speak or anything else that was internally verbal.

On the other hand, a mathematician he knew was able to do lots of mental things while counting that Feynman couldn't, and wasn't able to do other mental things while counting that Feynman could, because the other guy counted visually.


Feynman is great. After reading about this a few years ago, I spent a few minutes trying to teach myself how to count with other senses, like touch or taste.

I picked an ordering of foods and imagined the transition from one to the next.

Touch is easier, since the ordering is already there. Just look at your fingers and imagine a sensation in each finger as you count. Easiest is to actually move your fingers though.

Touch is also much faster than visual or audio. With Chisenbop, I can count at around 15Hz, which is faster than I can look at the things I am trying to count.

Related to this, I've discovered what I can and can't listen to depending on the task.

When I'm writing, I can't listen to music with lyrics or podcasts. That's not too surprising, since I'm obviously using the parts of my brain related to processing language for my work, so I can't process language in the background.

When I'm doing grunt-level programming or debugging, I can listen to music with words or podcasts.

But when I'm doing architecture-level program design, I can't listen to music with lyrics or podcasts. For me, this kind of thinking is too similar to writing.

I read Oliver Sachs Musicophilia: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Musicophilia-Tales-Music-Oliver-Sack...

In it he points out how some people with Alzheimers or other degenerative brain damage can use familiar music to co-ordinate a sort of 'flow' a rhythm of activity.

When I am coding it is like this. I can put on a familiar record that know back to front and then suddenly it is over and I haven't heard any of it but it has marshalled my flow for me.

Put on an unfamiliar playlist or a 'radio' style thing from last.fm (or the radio even) where I don't know what is going to be played next) and it trashes my flow.

So to get stuff out of Spotify I have to make and learn playlists (as it trashes the order of all the LP's which I have burnt into my head from years of listening to them on vinyl....)

Interesting. I can try that with Metallica's older stuff, as I have been listening to it for over 15 years.

I'm the same, I just have the same playlist on repeat for months, thanks for the link to the book!

Some nights, when I lay on my bed trying to sleep but my mind is still racing, I try to calm down by counting or something that requires concentration in order to forget everything else. I noticed how I cannot count without having another train of thought talking or replaying a song I was listening to the same day. It's like having two threads running in parallel.

Trying to count visually is almost impossible, I lose track before reaching twenty. As a friend of mine put this, “I can't count sheep to sleep because they are always cheating.”

Have you tried thinking about the process of breathing ?

Ask yourself, "how do I know I am breathing?": there is some physical sensation that tells you that you're breathing, whether it's a whistling noise in your nose, the feeling of air rushing past the tip of your nose or the back of your throat, the feeling of wanting to return to the neutral position that your ribs give you during a deep breath.

For a lot of people, just one of these sensations is the most dominant one. If you can pick one, just lie quietly and concentrate on it and notice it every time you take a breath.

This process is more about noticing sensation than doing any kind of cognition, so I find it very useful when trying to take a mid-day nap (I haven't had trouble sleeping at the end of the day since I had children, funny that).

stop reading if you're not a smoker...


"mind racing before sleep"? If you smoke, try not to smoke at least 1 hr before you go to bed.

Ha, I never tried to count visually, it's funny. I also tried to think about number names sequentially trying not to drift in their other representations.

I'm with pg here on the endless search for silence as well as your use of late nights to find it. I have sound-blocking ear muffs scattered all over the house and in two backpacks for when I'm studying on campus at Stanford, because at Stanford "quiet study area" seems to be an oxymoron. Studying, like everything at Stanford, is a social event.

One disturbing phenomenon I've discovered: When I use these ear muffs to block other people's noise, I gradually get more sensitive to their noise. My brain gets weaker at filtering out the distractions if I go too long without practice. I discovered that I had to force myself to NOT artificially block the noise for a few hours every few days to maintain an ability to block out the distraction in circumstances where I was UNABLE to artificially block the noise. Resistance to noisy distraction is a perceptual skill that can atrophy without practice.

I have to do any high-concentration work at night as well, and have likewise found that successfully finding some level of silence in life makes me more sensitive to noise...

In my case I've made a concerted effort to remove all aural advertising from my life -- this is rather easier nowadays, when it's trivial to watch videos and listen to music without ever consuming broadcast media.

But now when I do accidentally encounter normal TV/radio, it's amazingly grating and completely invades my head. I was in an airport in the US with TVs everywhere, and it was like trying to do work next to a fistfight. Commercial jingles pop into my head and stay there, when I'm unlucky enough to encounter them.

I think the problem is compounded by the fact that modern advertising is calculated to break through the normal deluge of attention-seeking noise that people are drenched in, so if you are not, in fact, already swimming in other noise, the sudden bursts are overwhelming.

    When I was living in Providence,    
An area specifically designed for work or study should be a quiet space, but the example given by PG is regarding his living quarters. I personally don't want to live in a library.

I feel the exact same way. I wear a pair of noise canceling headphones and listen to music so I can block out all of the noise produced by other people. What I found a few days ago, however, was that I had a very, very difficult time concentrating and focusing when I wasn't wearing them or listening to music, where as a year ago that problem was nonexistent. I feel like the only time I can truly concentrate and be at peace anymore is late at night, when everyone else is asleep.

noticed this 110% percent - I started wearing earplugs pumping whitenoise a few years back to help sleep - I need these things all the time now - I have whitenoise running probably 18 hours per day now (except when I'm driving).

I think the opposite is also true. I became able to sleep through nearly anything (nearly including, unfortunately, 4am fire alarms and, more fortunately, 4am wrong-numbers) in the dorms at college, where it was noisy nearly all the time.

I would imagine that exposing yourself to noise (on high volume?) 18 hours a day would cause permanent hearing damage.

18 is possibly the high end, but probably 6-8 per day, plus sleeptime, and it's never 'loud'. I've wondered about hearing loss, but I've done it for a few years now and have not noticed any loss (what did you say?) ;)

My office at work is a virtually silent team room. All of my coworkers are exceptionally quiet people. It drives me mad.

Most days I spend my entire productive workday in a coffee shop across campus, precisely because it is loud and busy. Only with the surrounding noise can I avoid being distracted by specific things. The environment is so noisy that it allows me to ignore to entirely.

My wife is the same way: she works best in a coffee shop, with background noise. My hypothesis is that people who are able to multitask (ie. not me) need a certain level of stimulation to absorb the attention that would otherwise crystallize into distractions.

For me, when I'm able to concentrate, the background noise is irrelevant. I simply do not hear it.

There's something to this, but there's also the fact that any given sound gets literally lost in the noise.

That's exactly what it is, for me at least. The slightest noise of something other than nature is enough to throw me completely, the best I can do living in a city is to work in an environment where the background noise has a masking effect. It's either no noise or a constant background drone loud enough to mask any single interrupting sound - anything in between is unworkable for me.

As much as I love the mountains and forests, I've come to realise that I like the idea of solitude a lot more than the reality of it. And so I find myself living in large cities, constantly seeking noise because it's the only way I can find peace.

When the ambient sound level gets too low, I get a strange feeling in my ear -- kinda like a hand or leg "falling asleep". It's really distracting.

White noise, and ambient "study" music is great -- it's like a null placeholder, I can focus and I remember hearing nothing instead of hearing silence.

My work place is the same. I really didn't like it in the beginning. But I have learned to love it. I have noticed that I am far more productive there than at my previous job where they had an open plan office shared by both developers and noisy sales people.

I have taken the quiet attitude home as well. I used to have the radio or TV on all day long when I was working on my computer. Now I turn everything off when I work at home.

I think noisy sales people would drive me crazy. If we leave the door open to the team room we can hear recruiting right outside. Very nice people, but I have even more trouble concentrating when they're on the phone all day.

Then again, that's focussed noise where I can easily pick out entire conversations. By contract, the coffee shop I'm in right now is full of a wild cacophony. So much noise that none of it forms a coherent picture. This is trivial to ignore.

In the end it probably comes down mostly to what you're willing to make work for you. I find a mostly silent room maddening enough that I'm unlikely to ever give it a try.

I remember that the Sun Microsystems drop in office in SF had a "quiet room" that the developers loved. No phones at the desks, and absolute quiet. But disagreements would break out when the spaces outside were all taken up and sales people needed a seat. Some just yakked. Others brought in cell phones and felt that as long as they used a hushed voice, they were honoring the silence. Other people felt that allowing a cell phone to ring and then taking the call outside the quiet room as you talked counted as quiet.

The office manager ruled with an iron fist, fortunately, and she really didn't care if someone didn't like her, so these folks got the boot. She saved that quiet room, as far as I'm concerned.

This is my preferred working style as well. Noise, as long as it is unrelated to what I am doing, doesn't bother me. I can work well in a library or a coffee shop (at least until someone recognizes me and comes up to say hello, which happens about once a week).

A crowded open plan office, with interesting and relevant conversations going on all around me, is detrimental to my productivity.

For the same reason, I wake up early (0200-0300 or so) because most tech people are likely to work late, so waking up early and doing stuff from 0400-1000 or so is functionally the same as staying up late.

My mother is a pretty deep thinker and she requires constant TV chatter simply because she has tinnitus and can't stand the sound of it. But I think she's an exception.

Have you introduced her to brown noise? I typically use it for blocking out background sounds when I'm tired of listening to music, but it might work well for tinnitus too.

There seem to be two very different definitions of brown noise.

Haven't heard of it before actually. Thanks!

I have tinnitus and needs background noise - but to be non interuptive it has to be background - a coffee bar, or the telly on low - what it can't require is any processing like music or something that is designed to be 'listened to'.

This feeling is disturbingly good. I remember my shift being offseted at work for I was always late, as a side effect I had to enjoy 1 hour alone at 5pm, the second people left the workplace, my brain expanded out of my suddenly relaxed self. As if I could use the walls as extended mind storage.

Carrying a lively conversation, possibly one with lots of laughter, actually involves paying a lot of attention: to the things people are saying, to their body language, to their feelings, to your own feelings, to the appropriateness of what you're saying, to the way that you're saying it, to thoughts that you have that you want to express but perhaps can't, and to the timing of things, particularly in the case of making jokes. It hopefully even involves paying attention to whether or not you're annoying people who aren't part of the conversation.

As someone who prefers absolute solitude for reading and writing, I can be very introverted, and I completely understand wanting things to be quiet. However, I think it's mistaken to assume all noisy people don't have any train of thought to interrupt. I think it's just as possible to be mindfully extroverted as it is to be mindlessly introverted. As for percentages and stuff, I'm at a loss; my bias is to assume mindlessness is more common than mindfulness regardless. I guess the difference is that mindless extroversion tends to be more obvious than mindless introversion.

I've come to view it as an aspect -- even if unconscious -- of competition.

The noisy folks tend to be a lot less effective (in particular, I mean those who chatter half the day away, and whose mistakes I was constantly fixing).

But... with their noise and disregard for my own concentration, they dragged down my effectiveness. (And my peace of mind and ultimately, health.)

One reason I now advocate -- strongly -- removing oneself from such environments as soon as possible.

I received a strong, sustained, and somewhat domineering message that I was the one who needed to adapt. And, being young and inexperienced and without much power, this caused both some significant self-doubt and great frustration.

I can't make up what I lost. But I can advise others to avoid similar loss.

> I think the fundamental problem with noisy people is (...) that they don't have any train of thought to interrupt

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying: are you saying that noisy people don't think (or are stupid)?

I'm a "quiet one" too, but I think noisy people are the opposite of "thinkless"; they appear to be afraid of their own mind and what it could tell them about the insignificance of the world in general and their life in particular (anyone's life).

What they want is distraction; they use noise as a lid over an even more tumultuous and noisy torrent of depressing thoughts.

Many people are addicted to stimuli in whatever form because they do not want to be left alone with their thoughts. Some just turn on the TV whenever they are alone, some have to socialize and can't stand being alone, others do drugs. Time alone in the nature or meditation is quite the opposite and something I would wish those stimuli seeker would experience more often.

> Time alone in the nature or meditation is quite the opposite and something I would wish those stimuli seeker would experience more often.

Why? That assumes that being alone with your own thoughts is somehow good for everyone. I've done it--it's not all it's cracked up to be, IMHO. I believe there's enough variation in the way people's brains are wired up that it's not really possible to say "this specific thing that works for me is also good for your own mood/well-being/thoughts".

I don't feel mentally stimulated by sitting around in nature or by meditating. It doesn't "clear my head" or make me look at my life in a new interesting perspective. It doesn't calm me in any meaningful way or anything like that. I mostly just feel annoyed that I'm not getting something accomplished, whether that "something" is actively creative or passively consumptive (as much as something passively consumptive can be "accomplished").

If that kind of thing works for you, that's great! I'm sure I take great mental pleasure from things you consider meaningless :-).

Everyone should find their own way. I agree. But being able to enjoy quiet time is something you can learn.

A common problem for people who can not be without stimuli is that they can not disassociate from their thoughts.

That means just looking at your thoughts or whatever other inner processes are going on and letting them pass by without getting attached to them.

This is what you train when you meditate and it does not come over night, but it gives you the ability to gain more control over yourself and quiet time or time you use to meditate becomes rather entertaining...

There are a lot of scientifically proven benefits for doing meditation as well.

Doing this is a lifestyle choice. There is nothing wrong if you enjoy drinking sugary soda drinks every day if that's you choice that's what it is.

I do meditation since several years and also studied the science related to it. This is meditation in a nutshell for me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sspY43lxqhE

I do believe that I am on a search for quiet, and I agree that for some people they don't like to be alone with their thoughts.

However, I don't think that's a bad thing. I don't know how their minds work, so I just assume that we think and process the world a little differently. Because of that, I try to be sensitive to their needs/desires, and they do the same for me.

It's not a statement of who's "better," just how each person is a little bit different (for me anyway).

I think people who know the matter would tell you that if you though about what you could get done, then you didn't make it to meditate (the right way). That said, I'm not able to do it properly, too.

> Some just turn on the TV whenever they are alone, some have to socialize and can't stand being alone, others do drugs.

Actually, I've had it pointed out that you'll see people crinkling bags, shuffling feet, coughing and clearing throats, and so on if you're in an otherwise silent room. I know that I'm guilty of it sometimes, and when I stay mindful and clamp down on it, I notice someone else picks up the slack.

Some drug users are meditative and introspective and take drugs specifically for that purpose. Depends on the drug, though.

> I think the fundamental problem with noisy people is (...) that they don't have any train of thought to interrupt

I must say that this choice of words rather took me aback as well. The problem is, it's difficult to call someone breathtakingly arrogant (which was my first reaction) when they have so much to be arrogant about!

I'd love to see some more insight on this from pg.

Edit: It's since occurred to me that pg may have meant at that particular moment rather than lacking a train of thought in a general sense. If that's the case, my comment is unjustified - apologies.

> pg may have meant at that particular moment

That's plausible; however, the conscious brain is constantly thinking / wandering / conjecturing about the past and the future, so it's next to impossible to not have a train of thought while you're awake. (If you have years and years of training as a zen master, maybe; if not, not).

Therefore, saying that people don't have a train of thought at a specific point in time is a little like saying they don't have a brain.

The rest of the post from PG would tend to confirm this: "ordinary people can understand" (...) "what they don't grasp".

Am I supposed to take understand that it's okay to be condescending and dismissive if you're pg and not anyone else? I'm really shocked no one else has called him out on this. Normally I see people jumping all over comments like this. Is HN such a cult of personality?

Everyone, even "ordinary" or "normal" people have their trains of thought and to belittle them by suggesting otherwise...

HN is indeed a cult of personality. Perhaps you would be better served by chiming in with your anecdote that shows how you too are exceptional in the same way as pg.

Valley-style entrepreneur culture seems to feature quite a generous serving of self-aggrandising ass-hattery. Is it really any wonder the king of Hackernews has a good few scoops on his plate?

The article primed us for a bitch fest. I came to the comments expecting it. So in this one case, for the therapeutic effects that come from getting shit off your chest, I expected and overlooked the belittling and pretension; maybe others did too. I think that one's perception of quiet is affective --- quiet is relative, and at some point you'll just hear your heart beat, and so there is something else at play here to make everyone so angry about noise --- and these reactions to noise show a degree of misanthropy, which is confirmed by the comments.

I am the same way. I always find it perplexing how most people can't spend literally 10 minutes in complete silence with their own thoughts without getting anxious.

I notice this mostly with the younger generation these days (young women especially). They literally feel the compulsion to always have some sort external stimuli coming in, usually in the form of a constant stream of music from their phones/MP3 players. I remember most of my ex girlfriends being like this, they could rarely be alone with their own thoughts for more than a few minutes.

I genuinely think that a lot of people are afraid of introspection and quiet these days, in fear of what they might find if they look inside themselves or just absorb the world around them in an unprocessed and unaltered fashion. It is just easier to shut down any self reflection our minds might attempt with a constant stream of junk stimulation from the outside.

ADD is becoming a huge problem these days and people's attention spans just keep getting shorter and shorter.

I can only speak for myself but I like to listen to music because when I don't my mind starts blaring its own music at me from within. On repeat. All day. It can actually get really distracting (I'll start singing instead of programming) and I have to start up some music to distract that part of my brain and let the rest of it work on whatever I'm supposed to be doing. I find that certain music (psytrance and goa, the louder the better) distract just the smallest part of the brain, maximizing the part that that can work on whatever problem I need it to.

Similarly, I watch TV at night to dull the inner monologue in my head so I can fall asleep. If I don't my stupid mind fixates on the most negative aspects of my life (even when things are going well) and I stay awake for hours feeling horrible. TV, music, and reading can distract me and let me fall asleep peacefully.

I had the same problem for most of my life, I was unable to stop listening to music in my head.

The solution was surprisingly simple. When I wanted to stop the internal music, I focused on ambient noise. The leaves rustling in the trees. Passing cars: their tires on the pavement, brakes, engine, the exhaust note. There are quite a few things to notice. While focusing, the music stopped.

At first it took great deliberate effort to quiet the music in my head. But eventually it just went away, within a matter of weeks. I no longer need to exert effort, I have conscious control over whether I want to replay a song in my head, or just have silence.

My meditation teacher Gil Fronsdal thought of it. He's a genius.

Thanks Paul, never thought I'd come across the name Gil Fronsdal name here. I used to listen to Zencast a lot, I should do that again some time.

I can quite relate to you, music is around me whole day, otherwise I fidget, hum, whistle, tap, sing...

What I prefer over TV for killing the brain noise before sleep is, again, music.

Music is the best.

My theory is that this would die down after a while if you don't "feed" it.. at least for most people. What is your experience? Have you ever tried to force silence upon yourself?

I've actually done this thing, as in I've participated in a 10-day Vipassana meditation course, during which participants cannot listen to music or interact with each other.

I can say that forcing silence upon myself resulted in a "mental withdrawal", if you will. It wasn't very pleasant, the music gets louder and louder and quite unbearable at times. That said, I did indeed see some effects at the end, in a form of periods of silence in my mind(which was kind of spectacular for me; there's some music in the back of my head at all times). My opinion is that even longer period of non-listening would yield even bigger results.

I really recommend the experience(the deprivation, I mean; the Vipassana part is also cool, but kind of orthogonal). Even though it's very demanding, you can really put things into perspective and learn a lot about how your body reacts to things. It also gives you a completely different outlook on stuff like solitary confinement.

What do you mean force silence upon myself? Are we talking meditation or just working/reading in quiet places? For minutes or hours (or days)? I first noticed the music thing when I was on the high school swim team and would swim for multiple hours every day. Under water it's not quiet, but there are no discernible sounds beyond the water itself--all I would hear was the music in my head.

I don't mean to sound like I'm complaining. I love music and it's been a huge part of my life since I can remember (and I'm old).

But from my experience, I don't buy your theory. I think I'm just wired different than people that seek out quiet places.

Force silence upon oneself is to shut up the mind as soon as it starts blabbering. There are means to ease this up, like counting or looking at things and focusing on their characteristics (green jacket, yellow leave, noisy car) or feeling your body (my thumb tickles, my stomach feels empty).

Just stop when the brain starts picking up from there: "My stomach feels empty (BECAUSE YOU HAVEN'T EATEN AND WHENEVER YOU DO YOU EAT TRASH)" you just stop the thought on the BE and focus on the next inner or outer thing or on the next number of the count. When you can't stop the thought on time, just ignore it and move on.

At first is hard, especially with a noisy brain, but it gets easier and easier.

You do realize that there is always external stimulus around right?

Be it the noise of the ventilation system, or car horns outside, true silence rarely exists.

That said, when I am at home there is little else except for the sound of my computer fans as I read a book. But when I am at work, I most certainly choose to control what background noises I listen to. Music is most certainly a part of that.

As for stimulus shutting down self reflection, I find that quite the opposite is true. Different forms of stimulus encourage different forms of self reflection.

In fact, true silence is so rare, it is perceived as noise.

In fact, true silence will make you insane. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensory_deprivation

Can't find the article right now, but they once put people in a completely soundproof room; their minds started to make up sounds and increased their hearing sensitivity to the point where they could hear their own muscles move. I believe the longest one lasted 45 minutes.

This may be the article you were looking for: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2124581/The-w...

True silence for long periods of time makes you insane. For a minute or two it's awesome how you start hearing "the sound of silence".

"young women especially" really?

Should he disregard his observations because it offends your sensibilities?

No, he should disregard them because as written they're sexist, and don't even have good methodology to try and stand in their defense. His confirmation bias is one thing, the assertion that these women "literally feel a compulsion" that he hasn't justified is another thing entirely.

It was more ageist than sexist. It was a pretty standard "get off my lawn and turn down that music" comment.

> No, he should disregard them because as written they're sexist, and don't even have good methodology to try and stand in their defense.

So... If he had a sufficiently good methodology which proved his assertions, they would cease to be sexist and you politically correct lot would approve of them? Somehow I doubt it.

Yes, if proven they would cease to be sexist, because they'd be discriminating based on facts, not based on his apparent prejudice. (However, since the conjecture does seem to come from a combination of sexism/ageism/confirmation bias, it would be surprising if they were proved.)

BTW: Are you proud not to be in the politically correct "lot"? All it really amounts to is trying not to be unnecessarily hateful or demeaning to one another.

I'm not sure that stating an observation that a certain tendency "seems to be" more common among a particular subgroup really counts as discrimination.

> Yes, if proven they would cease to be sexist, because they'd be discriminating based on facts, not based on his apparent prejudice. (However, since the conjecture does seem to come from a combination of sexism/ageism/confirmation bias, it would be surprising if they were proved.)

I see. It's good to know that employers are now free to throw out all applications from Ethiopians, because of the fact that the average IQ in Ethiopia is 63.

> BTW: Are you proud not to be in the politically correct "lot"? All it really amounts to is trying not to be unnecessarily hateful or demeaning to one another.

Please. Political correctness amounts to much more than that.

There needs to be a logically-valid reason to bring gender/age/country of origin/etc. into the discussion at all.

I.e., if you're interviewing an individual for a job, that means you're evaluating that individual's ability to fulfill the job requirements.

You'll get a hell of a lot better mileage out of, say, talking to them about complicated problems than you could ever get from even the average IQ in their family, let alone country or some other ridiculously large group like that. No need to get into the discussion of how valid that number is -- it's irrelevant to a job interview.

To the original point -- if maybe some large-scale study does show that young women tend to make more "social noise" than young men, I'm still having trouble imagining ways that might be relevant when noisy people enter a room I'm in.

Logic fail. But there is a difference between your (uncited) claim and "all Ethiopians I've met are thick", no?

Sure. Why not? Listening to music while in public sends the clear signal that she doesn't want to talk to you or anyone else. I think young people use earphones as a way of finding some privacy in an over socialized world. A pretty good adaptation, I would say.

The first weeks when I was living in Bangkok the busy, nosiy, smelly environment really drained my energy. Using headphones and music to escape the noise pollution of downtown Bangkok really helped me.

Later on I developed some sort of tolerance to the constant noise. Anyway I had the choice to move to a city or to the countryside last year when I decided to go back to Europe and the absolute silence at 3am out here, next to the mountains in southern Germany, is amazing.

I don't think it's for privacy, unless you're in a situation where social interaction is expected (you don't expect much of it on a daily commute, for example). Music adds comfort to an environment which is usually quite hostile: traffic noise, flashing adverts and constant movement, etc.

That's the pattern I've noticed as well.

> noisy people is not that they're inconsiderate, but that they don't have any train of thought to interrupt

I once have read an article about introverts vs. extroverts and the articles conclusion was that extroverts need to communicate with others in order to reflect on their ideas, while introverts tend to do reflection with themselves.

So, according to this article, if you tell extroverts to be quiet you are actually interrupting their train of thoughts.

Being an introvert myself, I would have never come to this conclusion on my own.

My trick is to use http://rainymood.com - the background noise of a storm is surprisingly peaceful.

I usually turn the thunder and lighting on and listen to this too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTVraVgzC9U

Maybe not quite so peaceful :)

Edit: My mistake, I'm normally on http://raining.fm/

I cannot even tolerate rain... I need noise: http://simplynoise.com/

... with noise-canceling headphones. I just discovered these a couple of years ago, and I was - am still! - positively shocked at how well they work.

Can you say which brand/model left you positively shocked? I'm still skeptical of those and would love to be proved wrong.

Bose QuietComfort. They're really expensive ($300), but one of the few products I find to be worth the seemingly ridiculous cost.

I listen to bird song, as it makes me think I'm outside in the Summer Time:


Thanks for this, my office is often loud and constant music gives me headaches or distracts me so I'm always excited to find some alternatives.

Sorry for the late reply - You're most welcome, my girlfriend showed me this 6 months ago and I'm a convert now, to the point where I find it difficult to concentrate without it and I have to keep my window open at night or everything just feels wrong.

I hope you enjoy it, I know I for one find it hard to focus with music in my ears, I've even tried Beethoven at one point but nothing gave me the right vibe.

Ordinary people can understand

And so is the fundamental problem with quiet people that they're hyper-sensitive, judgemental assholes?

You are generalizing. Every group has assholes. Hyper-sensitive is probably closer to the truth.

No, actually I was mocking.

What an arrogant attitude. My wife has severe ADHD. You'll note the second part is "hyperactivity", this means she can have extreme focus in environments where I can barely think.

Paul - are you really this much of a prick? Were these people partying at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning? If so, then you have a point. Otherwise, can't you understand that some people like to have fun, like to listen to music, etc? And anyone not like yourself is ordinary???

I don't agree at all - some people require stillness and quiet while others don't. My most creative moments have been drunk in the early hours with music full blast. Others in a quiet office with everyone gone home. If society has become louder, then that's the new morality, otherwise there would be 'noisy' carriages on an otherwise 'quiet' train ;-)

Mine as well. I find the present startup culture to be extremely hostile to quietness, and I'm hoping I can lead a rebellion. Are there small still small tech companies that value deep, peaceful thought?

"I think the fundamental problem with noisy people is not that they're inconsiderate, but that they don't have any train of thought to interrupt, and they thus don't realize the havoc they're wreaking."

A more polite, and perhaps more accurate rendering would be "Many noisy people work out what they think by saying it." To some of them the introvert who much prefers to think matters out before speaking may seem as thoughtless as they do to the introvert.

I am able to maintain a deep level of concentration in any environment. My internal state is not my neighbor's responsibility. There is no noise, only music.

Anecdotal, but: I can be noisy as a consequence of having a train of thought. Sometimes, for certain types of problem, I think best while talking out loud, waving my arms, and diagramming on a whiteboard. Not a quiet process but definitely underpinned by a train of thought.

I must say pg, I am a bit baffled by this after Startup school; there were so many people at the reception on Friday evening that I went hoarse within 15 minutes of arriving. It was nice to be there but almost impossible to hear what people were saying.

Agree with the sentiment but how do you account for the noisy ones being smart (processing their thoughts) if

they don't have any train of thought to interrupt

is true?

I've often wondered what I in particular and my group in general could accomplish if we had a quiet place to think at work.

There's nothing like the quietude of considered thought - sometimes it was one's only escape amidst gunfire...

I sympathize with whoever criticized the guy for loud typing. Seriously, it's distracting/disruptive. I learnt to type on (manual) typewriter too but laptops and keys don't need to be stabbed with the force of a thousand suns to register the press.

It can be just as loud as people talking and (IMHO) can be harder to tune out. After all, we're used to hearing people talk all the time.

Oh and while I'm in the mood for ranting, people who eat with their mouths open--particularly when it's something crunchy--or who slurp in any way are going to be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

I don't catch long distance trains in the US at all. I sometimes take the subway but more often than not you're just standing for 10-15 minutes. In Germany, I don't recall having a lot of problems with noise (although, on one train back from Oberhausen, the smoke was so thick you couldn't see one window from the other in a very Cheech and Chong moment). England varied but was generally fine.

What I'm not looking forward to is when cellphones become usable on planes because you know someone is going to sit there and talk loudly for the entire flight.

One tip though: my Bose noise cancelling headphones are worth their weight in gold.

Totally agree about the slurping...but it should be noted that this is also a cultural phenomenon. In some cultures, it's a sign of appreciation for the food. Not slurping means you don't like your food and it's disrespectful.

That said, holy hell I can't stand the sound. Nothing will make me flee a place faster than listening to someone slurp their food as they shovel it into their gaping maw.

"...but it should be noted that this is also a cultural phenomenon."

After spending some time in Taiwan, I found myself slurping tea and hot pot by default. I came to realize slurping has it's advantages – in particular, you don't burn your lips and tongue on hot liquids.

Although I've re-Westernized when it comes to not slurping food, I do still slurp tea. Apparently, I'm not alone in thinking it's the best way to drink it. From the LA Times:

To taste tea, you must slurp it loudly, because tea needs oxygen to release its flavor. "Can we make some noise?" Spillane urged those who were drinking too politely. "You need to spray your entire mouth and draw air in with the tea to get a proper taste."

Slurping also makes it possible to drink very hot liquid without burning the mouth, and tea is at its best when hot. As it cools, it loses flavor.


Interesting, there's a similar thing with wine tasting and sucking it through your teeth for aerating (random googling: http://www.welikewine.co.uk/TipsonWineTasting.html)

> After spending some time in Taiwan, I found myself slurping tea and hot pot by default. I came to realize slurping has it's advantages – in particular, you don't burn your lips and tongue on hot liquids.

Slurping sounds generally annoy me, but I'll admit I slurp that first sip of coffee because I'm never quite sure exactly how hot it will be.

I think it's the repetition more than the actual slurp that bothers me, though. Any repetitive sound can send me into a rage after about a minute.

Yeah, in Japan it's considered rude not to slurp noodles, because that means you're not enjoying them, which would be an insult to whoever made them.

I experienced quite a culture shock when returning to the US after living in Tokyo for a year. I was at some noodle place with a friend and ate the noodles in the way I considered normal. Eventually he told me he was going to leave because I was eating so rudely.

"Welcome back to the land of the Puritans," I thought to myself.

> Eventually he told me he was going to leave because I was eating so rudely.

Does this happen in a jovial manner, or people really take serious offence to simple inconveniences?

I find it seriously annoying, but I realize that others don't.

The problem is that if you don't like it, you really don't like it. Meanwhile, if you don't mind it, people who do seem like jerks.

Imagine something more universally recognized as rude. E.g. Eating with someone who keeps making really smelly farts or picking his nose all the time. The disgust is visceral, and hard to rationalize away.

> The problem is that if you don't like it, you really don't like it. Meanwhile, if you don't mind it, people who do seem like jerks.

It's more like how you say it. "Hey Buddy, if you don't stop slurping, I am going to chew and then open my mouth wide to show you my handiwork." is very different from "I am leaving. You are so rude."

> The disgust is visceral, and hard to rationalize away.

The keyword is "friend" - someone who you can talk to; asking him not to do that as it is making you uncomfortable should be pretty easy.

Well, I would not go as far as saying it becomes an insult. Especially if you are foreigner, they would understand you are not used to slurping.

Of course, anything will go when you're a foreigner (the so-called "gaijin smash"). But I can definitely see them taking offense when a fellow Japanese person makes this mistake.

In some other cultures, female genital mutilation isn't prohibited.

Now, whats your point?

Ah, hyperbole. Such an elegant way to continue a conversation.

Not hyperbole: most perfectly weighted comment I've seen on HN so far. Thank you, good sir.

> In Germany, I don't recall having a lot of problems with noise

Here in France all train cars are "quiet cars" and most people respect that.

Sometimes you come across somebody who insists on talking on their cellphone while seated (you're supposed to make your calls on the "platform" which is the space between cars), but it's rare and usually doesn't last.

>Here in France all train cars are "quiet cars" and most people respect that.

I wish it were true... I took the train last week and was in the same wagon as 4 "rednecks" who ate their lunch while drinking wine, chewing loudly and laughing. The whole wagon could hear what they were talking about. The SNCF employees didn't even care... I am a regular train user and it is unfortunately pretty frequent occurrence.

True. French/Swiss trains are my absolute favourite place for work. On the other hand, they make the worst audience for rock concerts.

I'd like to know how loudly you need to type to exceed the ambient noise on an Amtrak car, of all places.

In my search for quiet, I often carry a decibel meter around. Amtrak cars, even the quiet cars, have a constant 90 decibel background noise when in motion (measured with a C weighting). It seems like a lot of the train noise is in the low frequencies and the A weighting OSHA uses is the only thing keeping Amtrak out of violation.

Yeah, part of my point was that American train systems are old and awful and noisy. I had the pleasure of riding a smaller Deutsche Bahn commuter train once and the ambient noise had to be in the 50-60 dB range, if not lower.

Depends on your keyboard and force. For example, a MacBook is generally quieter than other laptops but then again once those keys get old they can get quite loose and clackety. What I can say for sure is that those train cars can be pretty damn quiet. I know the quiet car I ride in is possibly quieter than my own car. And when it's silent the ambient noise tends to sound even more faint until someone on the inside starts making some really annoying sounds. I'd also say its sometimes not so much about the volume itself but rather the type of sound. Someone talking on a cellphone is less annoying than a phome ringing which is less annoying than that damn texting keyboard "click" sound which is equally annoying as typing too hard.

The trackpad "CLUNK" on an MBP is pretty loud and annoying, and incredibly random if you're not the one doing it...

Yes! This and the comment below points out the space bar is also a very loud key we can single out on all keyboards. I set my trackpad to use tap to click because I prefer it and it avoids that sound but I do occasionally click by pressing it. Now you've got me thinking how disturbing I might be with my occasional clicking on my MacBook Air on the quiet car.

I have a model-m. Do I win a prize?

Only if you use it connected to your laptop while sitting in a train.

And on which key. Spacebar oh spacebar, why areth thou so loud?

I've not ridden Amtrak, just Caltrain, but as regards UK trains the answer is that background noise doesn't matter.

People generally talk loud enough to happily hear each other over any background noise. They tend not to notice, either.

As such, when businesspeople consider the quiet car somewhere for meetings because everywhere else has noise, everyone in the car hears exactly what they are discussing.

I'm on the bus at the moment on the way to work, I use a Lenovo Thinkpad Edge in my personal time, it's a decent machine and was within my budget at the time I bought it, but I agree, the keyboard can be extremely loud in quiet areas, but that's one of the reasons I like it.

My iMac at work has a nearly silent keyboard and it drives me up the walls, being so used to developing in my spare time on a loud machine.

Never had a problem here in Germany either. Smoking is luckily not allowed anymore, as well. There is a quiet car, too, but it is hardly necessary. Talking on the cell phone loudly is frowned upon everwhere, even in the underground train -- at least I haven't seen too many people doing it. Just don't take the same trains the drunken soccer fans take (if you're not in the mood).

This is must be a somewhat American problem. I once was at a Cheescake factory there, where it was so loud we could hardly talk with each other. We hypothesized that they do this for a higher turnover.

The people in the Amtrak trains, subways or buses did not bother me -- it was more the screeching noises those old relics made. I would be extremely annoyed by music in a library though.

"This is must be a somewhat American problem. I once was at a Cheescake factory there, where it was so loud we could hardly talk with each other. We hypothesized that they do this for a higher turnover."

I've heard that the loudness in restaurants isn't meant to increase turnover - it's actually used to attract people to the restaurant. The average restaurant-goer in NYC seems to have an aversion to places that are quiet enough to carry on a normal conversation. They apparently find the noisy environment to be stimulating and exciting. There are even special sound systems designed for restaurants that amplify certain components of the ambient noise if the natural acoustics of the room aren't noisy enough.

There are plenty of quiet restaurants in NYC.

Would you mind offering up a few of your favorites? I'm always looking for quiet places to eat in the city, particularly around the village.

I'm bad with restaurants in Manhattan, but Anella and Bozu are two favorites in Brooklyn.

I agree there are many loud restaurants in Manhattan, but that is mostly a factor of the bar and/or a large space (e.g., Buddakan). Look for places not trying to attract attention (a full curtain on the window, rather than trying to advertise their popularity / bar scene).

My main point was probably that Manhattan != NYC. :)

>We hypothesized that they do this for a higher turnover.

I can (anecdotally) confirm that many places do this. One place where my friend worked adjusted the background music volume based on the wait time, and I know of several restaurants by me where the waitresses will say that the music goes up as the place gets busy to persuade people to leave after eating.

Bars have loud music because, during the lulls in conversation caused by the inability to hold a conversation, you drink.

And therefore you drink more.

Economic logic at its finest.

There is a quiet car, too, but it is hardly necessary. Talking on the cell phone loudly is frowned upon everwhere

Surely you must be joking?

I can confirm that. Using cell phones in public transportation was forbidden for a few years but is allowed now. People are usually pretty quiet in German trains. Many trains also have special areas for families with kids that are more noisy.

It's the same in Japan. But sadly not in Australia.

I've lived in both Germany and Australia, and my experience is the exact opposite -- at least in suburban trains, I don't think I ever used a long distance train in Australia. And those are okay in Germany. But suburban trains? The two couldn't be more different! Where I was (small town in Germany close to France and Melbourne, Victoria) there was screaming (!), loud music from cell phones and general obnoxious and ruthless behavior all the time in the local suburban trains in Germany, while it was heavenly quiet and relaxed and enjoyable in Melbourne.

I've noticed that. Travelling on suburban trains in Melbourne was a constant din, especially if there were groups of school kids on the train.

I'm with you. But my Bose headphones cancel best the kind of sound that is easily ignored. Typing and talking go right through and even become more prominent against the quieter background. I found that full isolation can only be achieved by playing some music, which is better but still not ideal.

Anyone starting a Kickstart project for a better system can have my money.

Anyone starting a Kickstart project for a better system can have my money.

No need to reinvent the wheel: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00009LI4K

Looking at some of the reviews, it sounds like this hardware has its limitations, namely that it does a poor job of blocking out sounds in the frequency of human voices, which is the main thing that jhandl seems to be looking for.

I use a pair of these ear muffs almost daily; they pretty much block out all sound well for me. Here are a few reviews for the product that address your concern:

"you cannot hear what anyone is saying unless they shout, and even then, it is difficult to understand them." http://www.amazon.com/review/R20X9DNAJC9ZX3/

"I use to study while my 2 year old screams her head off (as long as someone else is watching her of course!)." http://www.amazon.com/review/R29TUUYEQY98W9/

"I use them while doing research in a library. It's unbroken silence despite screaming kids and adults talking into their cellphones. People no longer understand proper behavior in a library, but I don't care. I can't hear them. It's wonderful." http://www.amazon.com/review/RQBNEZ9CX3O19/

For an extra bonus to your saving throw versus extroverts, you can put in earplugs, then these over the top.

I use "white" noise (ocean waves, rainfall, etc.) to both block out distractions and improve concentration. It works very well for me.

I have been using Chill[1] periodically in lieu of music for a few months. It has the typical generators (airplane, beach, city, etc) but also blue, brown, pink, violet, and white noise tracks. I like brown noise; it has the low-frequency rumble of an airplane but the higher frequencies also block out ambient noise. Great for working in an office.

[1]: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/chill/id421696351?mt=12

Presumably not the same as the Brown Note: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_note

I've found that more expensive in-ear headphones are significantly better at shutting out all external noise. But be prepared to spend some time playing with different pairs, plugs, and wear-styles (e.g. headphones dangling vs. wrapped over-ear) until you find one that you can handle for hours at a time.

The pair I have are effective enough at cutting out most noise that they're basically earplugs even with no music on and I can wear them for entire trans-atlantic/pacific flights.

My approach for international flights is a pair of circum-aural[1] noise cancelling headphones, with disposable foam earplugs inside them, and the music playing just loud enough to distract me from anything that gets past both the earplugs and the noise cancellation.

Where I am (Australia) OH&S regulations say workplace noise louder than 85dB averaged over 8hrs requires the employer to provide hearing protection[2]. The cabin of a 747 in flight is often louder than that, and for me it's usually a 13 or 14hr flight, so not using some form of hearing protection is almost certainly doing damage. But the best reason to wear protection is that I get off at the end of a 12+hr flight much more relaxed than when I don't have earplugs.

[1] big "DJ style" headphones with the cushions that surround/seal around the entire ear. [2] I've heard, but never seen any actual evidence, that airlines operating in Australia have negotiated exemptions from the standard OH&S rules which would require cabin staff to fly wearing hearing protection.

In-ear plugs don't work for me, I can't even stand the soft squishy ones for 30 seconds. Given that I also can't sleep while sitting and I can't afford (and my company won't pay) business seats, I have to resort to pills. So the solution for me is Bose + pills.

Have you tried the silicone earplugs ( http://www.amazon.com/Macks-Pillow-Silicone-Earplugs-Value/d... ). The squishy foam earplugs bother my ears after a while, but I can wear the silicone earplugs pretty much forever.

Thanks, I might try them as they are not in-ear (which is what I can't stand). Chemical help for sleeping while sitting is still needed though, not that I mind.

Hearos ( http://www.hearos.com/ ) do a really nice range... I find their foamy ones amazing, comfortable and blocking even quite load noises.

Try listening to some binaural nature recordings instead of music. It's much less distracting. I find that they function as well as white noise, except that I don't get tired of listening to them for long periods of time. http://soundtracker.com http://www.naturespace.com

Things aren't always like what they seem. Here's my perspective.

I use a ThinkPad that has a noisy keyboard. When I type on a Macbook Pro, my typing is silent. The noise in my case is because of keyboard design, not because of my typing force, I prefer the audible feedback. If I'm in a shared space where all I can hear is my typing, I try not to type.

I have slight breathing problems due to a small nasal passage. When I eat, I sometimes have to breathe through my mouth. I try not to, because eating with your mouth open is considered rude.

Loud typing is a symptom of the lack of private working space in the office. That means the company is too cheap to set up offices or good insulating cubicles for the developers.

As a loud typer, I appreciate the reminder that my typing can be annoying to people. I don't know what it is exactly, but I can't seem to get quiet. I've never even used a typewriter! I think it's because I don't type with the traditional method since I self-learned before I could be taught... My method uses fewer fingers which may force them to move faster and thus hit harder, on average.

I'm sorry, from those of us who type loud, to all of you.

I've never been, but have read that Germany has very strict laws governing when and where noise can be made. In fact, only 2 years ago there was an amendment to the law giving children in Berlin the right to make noise, but only during specified hours: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/8520941.stm

At my internship last summer, several devs were partial to those super-clacky keyboards one can buy. I can't stand working without (or even with) headphones in places like cafes when loud conversations are going on around me, but I found the keyboard sounds very easy to tune out.

Those are called tactile keyboards and have many advantages (and the disadvantage of being noisy, although this varies by switch type): http://www.overclock.net/t/491752/mechanical-keyboard-guide

I might be a little biased considering I own one, but many people find the click clack sound produced by a keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches to be quite relaxing.

I find the keyboard sound the hardest to tune out. I think it's the constant change in speed and duration of the typing.

I sit by 3-4 loud typers at work and it regularly makes me lose focus for 10-20 minutes at a time and that is with my headphones on.

As a loud typer myself, please let them know. I'm usually wearing my headphones and have no idea how loud my keyboard sounds are - and if I'm in a bad mood, it tends to get louder, without me being consciously aware of it. I wouldn't be offended if someone pointed out how much noise I'm generating, and I doubt they would be, either.

This would work especially well if your boss is willing to spring for quiet keyboards for them, and if they're willing to use 'em.

It's one reason I'm a big fan of the current gen Apple keyboard, it's very quiet. Keyboards from PC manufacturers tend to be loud.

Yeah, back in high school people would constantly point out that I type too loudly. I think the Apple keyboards have helped a bit, still a bit noisy but not annoyingly like I probably would be on other keyboards.

Yeah, the large PC keyboards really exacerbate the problem.

>I sympathize with whoever criticized the guy for loud typing.

I actually don't mind typing: to me, it sounds like ideas. It's also regular enough to become part of the background, whereas something like music isn't, because it's too variable.

>my Bose noise cancelling headphones are worth their weight in gold.

I'm going to be that obnoxious guy: Amazon lists Bose QC 15s (the model I have) as 7.4 ounces. The spot-price for gold right now is about $1,700 per ounce. Are they really worth $12,580?

>Are they really worth $12,580?

I hate to be the other obnoxious guy that responds to the self proclaimed obnoxious guy, but I see the quite a bit lately, even paraded in XKCD. Is there a significant group of people that absolutely abhors all rhetorical figures of speech? Or is it only specific ones, such as metaphors and hyperbole, with simile being mostly OK? Just curious.

I've always assumed that the inability to look beyond the literal is some kind of Asperger's symptom, or other autism-spectrum issue.

Could be a symptom of being a plain old nitwit, too, but not being a psychologist I wouldn't have any insight to offer beyond that.

> Is there a significant group of people that absolutely abhors all rhetorical figures of speech? Or is it only specific ones, such as metaphors and hyperbole, with simile being mostly OK? Just curious.

In medical circles it would be called "learning disability".

On a more serious note though, mocking people who use a lot of metaphors is a good way to try to make yourself look intellectually superior. I see it a lot these days and I find it very passive aggressive. Back in school people making those kinds of comments would be called smartasses and have their asses kicked for using that kind of language.

The deeper I get into writing, and what it means to write well, the harder it is. Reading Martin Amis's The War Against Cliche was a particularly pernicious moment for me. So was Lakoff and Johnson's Metaphors We Live By.

I think the question is this: does a rhetorical figure of speech help the reader or writer see the things being compared or figurized in a new way? If the answer is no, then perhaps we should look at those rhetorical things as literal, in order to remind ourselves of the power of rhetoric.

I favor metaphors and hyperbole like politicians favor hand-shaking and baby-kissing. But it to be done well.

Orwell, "Politics and the English Language", 1946:

"By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash -- as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot -- it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking. "

"Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print."

Thanks! I assign "Politics and the English Language" to my students every semester.

Occasionally I enjoy attempting to communicate entirely with cliches. Its easier than one first imagines.

Your own little "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" moment.

It's usually Shaka, when the walls fell when I do this.

It's funny how things like this can sit totally dormant in your mind for years and years, and at the first mention everything floods back. And just for a silly ST:TNG reference.

Our minds are amazing machines.

If you can't deal with obnoxious people, you probably shouldn't be using the internet...

If the headphones let you finish a project worth six figures, you could justify them being worth far more than 12k...

Silence is golden.

Deal with that one.

I lost a pair of these and I just replaced them. So I've bought two pairs in two years. To me the noise canceling is worth it. I also have an aviation headset from them that's lasted me a very long time so I like the quality. I don't consider them the best, I just really like them. The best would probably be a set from Sennheiser or Denon. I'm not an audiophile, I'm more of a silencephile.

obnoxious guy #2: his Bose noise cancelling headphones are.

QuietComfort 15 right? They're a life saver :-)

Oh, the quiet car. I ride the quiet car every weekday to and from work into and out of Chicago (except ours is Metra, not Amtrak). His description of it is completely accurate. The people on the quiet car tend to be thinkers, readers, writers, and I dare say just a bit more intelligent than the average rider.

I've had the same experience before. For some reason people think the signs and the announcements don't apply to them and it just boggles my mind how much self awareness they lack! There's been a guy I've seen on the quiet car twice last week who for some reason had his iPhone at full volume and texted for the entire hour I was on the train. The problem wasn't the texting but that the iPhones clickers clackety keyboard sounds were on. Is that really necessary? And on the quiet car no less? A woman did the same thing a few weeks back. Of course no one said a word but we were all very annoyed. And then you get the oblivious guy who doesn't read signs or listen to the 3 announcements who talks on his cell the whole ride. And don't get me started on the teenagers who seem to be visiting the city for the first time and for some reason need to scream at each other despite being centimeters from each others face in a car full of completely silent people. The signs are obvious. The announcement are loud, clear, and numerous. So what the fuck, man?!

That's life now. It seems we have a whole generation of people who are just completely lacking self-awareness and have a serious problem with entitlement. But it's not young people this is specific to. I'm only 26 and I'm good on the quiet car (though I have had my moments I'll admit). There are people of all ages,miracles, and genders who behave this way and though I think humans are like this by nature anyway I also think the Internet and cell phones have made it worse. It seems like a learned behavior.

I just blamed Internet and cell phones for a portion of the world's ills. I'm going to go think about how old that makes me sound now...

This diversity of opinion about what is and is not hard to tune out is fascinating.

Also 26 here. One of the great shortcomings of youth is not being able to understand that other people can be fundamentally different. Not better, not worse. Just different. This is something I'm only truly beginning to appreciate lately.

I had never realized until this thread that people could find typing annoying. Well, theoretically I mean I understood you could think "Oh that's annoying" and get on with life. But not the overwhelming, consuming pathos here.

Maybe the problem is less a lack of self-awareness and a serious problem with entitlement. Maybe the problem is this:

Their awareness of self leads them to different conclusions about what is and is not annoying. They don't see themselves as doing anything more entitled than breathing, because other people's typing bothers them about as much as your breathing.

Also, age: you're more easily distracted & thus annoyed at /being/ distracted as you get older.

"I'm good on the quiet car (though I have had my moments I'll admit). There are people of all ages,miracles, and genders who behave this way..."

You probably don't encounter the same people all the time. There's enough people out in the world such that each one can "have their moments" when they're around you, and nowhere else, and you wouldn't know the difference.

I do sympathize with you though. I've got a sound sensitivity problem, and lots of noises bug me way way way out of the ordinary compared to most peoples' tolerance. I know this isn't specifically related to quiet cars on trains, but noises in general still bug me (even my own oftentimes). I'm sometimes shocked how I can be on an airplane, with gigantic engines blowing away at tremendous force just 20 feet from me, yet a person a row ahead of me chewing gum or chowing down on pretzels penetrates in to my brain.

Do you get much flak from others for your sensitivity to noise?

Some noises bother me a lot. Anything that's repetitive will annoy me to the point that I basically cannot function and get extremely angry, and it only takes a minute or two to get to that level. Sometimes sounds (and not necessarily loud ones) are physically uncomfortable.

I have similar issues with some textures (in food, clothing, etc.) and am very sensitive to smells (the cause nausea and headaches).

All my life I have been told I need to "get over" this, which I have certainly tried to do, but there seems to be only so much I can do about it. People who don't experience this level of sensitivity just think I'm being difficult and that I do this by choice. Frustrating.

as a kid I did - it was worst with family - caused a lot of bad feelings. as an adult, i can basically just walk away or leave the room, or try to compensate by controlling the conversation or doing something else to distract myself for a few moments.

I think the term is hyperacusis, but that now seems to general. I'd found a more specific term for this condition I think I have, but haven't been able to find any doctors or therapists willing to deal with it.

in my case I'm not sure I get physical discomfort - it's more mental, or at least, that's how I register it.

There is some research on this condition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensory_integration_dysfunction

I hear what you're saying and you've got a point. Makes sense. But for the record, most of the people on that car I actually do see 3 to 5 times per week. So far it's been very rare for the regulars to have annoying moments. I've been keeping track for six months now.

NOTE: "MISOPHONIA" was/is the term I was looking for to describe this condition. (not "hyperacusis" as I noted below)

While we're on this subject, a related rant/question:

Why are so many people so totally oblivious to so many announcements, signs, and otherwise?

You've all seen it: Boarding a plane, for example. "Ladies, and Gentlemen, we're boarding rows 1 - 5 now. Thanks." And as sure as Spring, there will _always_ be someone from row 324 who gets in line. The staff are far more polite than I'd be: "Sir, we're boarding rows 1 - 5. You're in row 324. I literally just made this announcement four seconds ago." And still, more people from other rows will attempt to board.

This happens endlessly, everywhere. "Please don't stand here." Someone will stand here. "Please step forward if you have a yellow ticket." Someone will say "But nobody called the yellow tickets?"

Perhaps I'm too attentive or perhaps I shouldn't be annoyed by this, but I am and I am.

The profusion of announcements negates them.

Just yesterday I noticed that a single bus door had SIXTEEN warning signs on it. I dare suggest that nobody else noticed any of them that day.

My guess? There's no disincentive to ignore signs.

If you get in line for rows 1-5, and your ticket reads 324, your worst case scenario is standing in line until they call your rows. The best case scenario is guaranteed luggage space and convenience.

Non english speakers?

People who have just arrived at the gate, and are a bit confused, and also afraid of missing the plane. Is this the last call?

Especially when you are rushing for your 4th connecting flight on a 30 hours trip.

> boarding rows 1 - 5 now

I think you greatly under-estimate people's economic or opportunistic sense of a good chance to get guaranteed luggage space and enough space around them to take off jackets, sweaters and whatever else they might need to feel comfortable sitting down on a plane.

You have trains with quiet cars? That sounded neat at first, until I realized that everyone where I live is quiet on the train anyways so it isn't a problem.

They may be quiet but I'm not sure it compares with the quiet car. On the quiet car, when all goes well, it is 100% silent. No one talks and there's just no noise at all. If your train of thought is broken for a moment and you take in the silence it's almost eerie. That's why even the slightest noise like someone typing can become so disturbing. I don't know, maybe the people on your train really are that quiet but I hope you get to experience a quiet car someday to know for sure because it really is great.

That describes pretty much every train I've been on in Austria, oh sometimes there is noise but it's the exception rather than the norm. The other strange thing is often people will rather stand than sit next to someone else. Coming from Canada where it is normal to have loud conversation from all directions on public transportation I found it a huge surprise but am overall a fan. Nice for reading or thinking.

> scream at each other despite being centimeters from each others face

Ah, Dora the Explorer generation...

On a related topic: if you are a developer and are forced to deeply concentrate in public places, after three years of doing that daily I arrived at a system that could keep me coding.

1. Figure out what earplugs work well. Working well means good sound suppression but also means earplugs that you can have in your ear comfortably for long stretches. I can sleep the entire night in the ones I settled on (I buy them bulk: http://www.amazon.com/Moldex-6800-Pura-Fit-Soft-Earplugs/dp/... ).

2. Get over-the-ear headphones, the kind that physically enclose your entire ear. Mine are noise-canceling as well but most of the benefit comes from the enclosure.

3. Play a white noise mp3 into the headphones. Turn the volume up to the point where you can just hear it through the earplugs you're also wearing.

With that setup, I would not even notice people talking next to me. People would often have to wave their hand by my laptop screen to get my attention (to ask me to share the coffeeshop's power outlet or what not).

I rent an office now and am happy that is not a daily situation for me, but that's how I made the best of it after much experimentation.

If you're really hardcore about canceling noise I would recommend buying a pair of actual earmuffs, not headphones, and wearing those over a pair of earbuds. It's what StarCraft 2 pro gamers do to ensure they can think and concentrate when they compete in front of large audiences.

The best thing I've bought in the last few years has been a pair of etymotic earbuds with "custom fit" earbuds: http://www.etymotic.com/customfit/index.html

~$200 total, $100 for the basic earbuds and another $100 to get the earbuds "custom fit."

When they're off, they offer almost as good noise suppression as earplugs. When they are on, I can listen to music with great fidelity. I mostly listen to classical and rock.

Most importantly, they are extremely comfortable. I bought them when I was flying cross-country every week, and I wanted to have something that wouldn't hurt my ears after a few hours.

Good advice, but don't you think there is a possible danger in you not hearing outside noises? There is a reason we have ears you know, to alert us in case of danger when it is not necessarily visible to the eye.

Yes, of course there is danger, but the probability of a really hazardous event, which you may avoid by hearing, is very very low for most modern civilised environments where people spent prolonged periods of time, like sitting in plains/trains, or being in city rooms together with other people.

I would not consider reasonable using earplugs while walking in a jungle, or standing in a road/open space, or when driving a car myself :-) .

The headphones-over-earplugs strategy works great. I don't use it at work (I like the background din of my office), but when I'm trying to watch a movie on a long flight this is a lifesaver. The earplugs cover up all the background sounds of the engine/people talking, but the sound from the headphones comes right though it.

I guess you've never had neighbors who blast music with heavy bass. No earplugs in the world can protect from that, you can feel the music with your whole body.

I do earplugs + headphones thing, it really does help against regular noise.

Sometimes, the urbanites on HN will pile on suburbia, wondering how anybody can live there. This is one of the reasons I often feel the same way, only in reverse. As I sit here, I can not hear any sounds not originating in my house. While I certainly visit the places with Musak, loud bars, et al, I don't live there. It isn't as grating when there is surcease.

I'm not saying that Here It Is, The Reason Suburban Living Is Better Than Anything Anywhere. I'm just saying, if you're one of those people who just can't imagine what anyone would find appealing about the lifestyle, but were also nodding your head in agreement with this piece... now you can.

I'm in suburbia now, and the noise is nearly constant, year-round. I grew up on a farm, have lived in the hearts of major cities, the middle of an isolated mesa -- basically covered the spectrum of sound environments.

Nowhere has the noise gotten to me like in suburbia. Two words: leaf blowers.

The other day I was awakened by the... most... annoying... sound... in the universe: a leaf blower outside my window.

Worse! They blew everything directly into the bicycle parking row! Years' worth of dirt on my bike in one minute. Debris and filth in all the works. Earthworms. Had to completely detail the whole bike.

Meanwhile, leaves are some of the best compost available. Why do we blow them noisomely to rot on the "unused" areas of the pavement (i.e., bike parking, bike lanes)?

I've often said it: The twin banes of the suburban soundscape are barking dogs and gas-powered gardening implements.

I live in an old inner-ring streetcar suburb (sans streetcar, sadly) that's walking distance (about 2 km) from the downtown core. It's not as bad as some of the newer subdivisions I've been to, but it certainly experiences a share of leaf blowers, gas lawn mowers, gas snow blowers, SUVs and pickup trucks roaring down the street (they're much louder than compact cars), and the distant rumble of traffic on a nearby arterial. We had a backyard dinner party this past summer that was interrupted for an hour by a freaking wood chipper in a yard behind us.

My experience with suburbia was that there was always yard equipment going, plus dogs and teenagers. These loud, punctuated sounds always bothered me much more than the regular, low din of a city. Moreover, most of the noise in cities in from automobiles, which are mainly a problem inflicted upon us by suburban development.

... and there are neighborhoods in the centers of cities, typically residential with little car traffic, that are very quiet.

Tokyo has a lot of these. It doesn't have a single "downtown", but rather a large number of busy centers, usually around railroad stations, and in many parts of central Tokyo, the "infill" between these is residential single-family housing or small apartment buildings. In many of those areas, streets are very narrow and windy, there's very little automobile traffic (people walk or bicycle), and it's often very quiet, to the point where one can sometimes hear people talking inside houses while walking down the street...

The biggest problem with Tokyo is a lack of laws against public disturbance in terms of noise people are allowed to produce.

All is fine and dandy until one of those stupid delivery trucks shows up near my building at 6am blaring "Hidari e magarimasu, gochuui kudasai. Hidari e magarimasu, gochuui kudasai. Hidari e magarimasu, gochuui kudasai". For people unfamiliar with Japan, various trucks here are not only equipped with visual (light based) turn signals, but audio based ones as well. This means that whenever they are taking a turn, they are blaring from their speakers "Turning left, please be careful. Turning left, please be careful" ad nauseam.

Seriously, is that really necessary? Not to mention trucks with loudspeakers playing loud music promoting new bands and what not. I find Tokyo to be anything but a quiet city.

To make things worse, sound proofing is so terrible in Japanese houses and buildings (construction standards are really poor here compared to the ones we have in the west), that despite living on the 6th floor I can often make out contents of the conversations of loud drunk groups returning from izakayas at 1am.

But most of suburbia isn't quiet. Especially the suburbia that is Silicon Valley. You have go full-on rural before you're somewhat guaranteed to not be disturbed by man-made noises.

One perk of living in my mothers basement right now, rural noise levels. Sleeping is so much easier than it was at college!

I grew on on the country side. On an island. In the middle of the Baltic sea. In the winter, it would get so dark that I couldn't see my hand before my eyes, and couldn't hear a single sound. Actually this had some strange effects on me, being sort of a sleep walker and all. I would often wake up in the middle of the night being confused, not knowing where I was. I had to feel my bed, find the floor, the walls, the furniture, until I finally come to my senses and realize where I was. Kind of like sensory deprivation. It never happens nowadays, when I live in a city, because it never gets completely dark. Not really on topic, but thought it might be interesting, maybe others have had the same experience. I think growing up this way made me more sensitive to sounds in general, a ticking clock can keep me awake for hours...

I grew up in similar conditions, and only now that you've mentioned it, I made a connection of awaking to not knowing where you are and confused to such sensory deprivation. I don't recall that happening ever in urban areas. Quite contrary, I'm now extremely light sleeper, and wake to full awareness almost instantly. Interesting.

Just as a curiosity, did the confused episodes last long? I'm sort of a light sleeper but I also have sleep walking/talking tendencies. When I wake up in a sensory-deprivated state, it can take what seems like 5-10 minutes before I'm back to normal. It's like waking up from that dream, but having nothing contradicting the dream you just had, so my mind sort of continues the dream line of reasoning until my logical abilities catch up. Very strange feeling.

I live in the suburbs and have had the exact same experience on the quiet car as the author. The suburbs aren't quiet either. They suffer the same problems the author points out throughout the piece. This isn't unique to the city at all. I think it's something that anyone can get behind (unless you're one of those annoying people on the quiet car in which case you might not get it).

I'm typing this right now from my apartment in Midtown Manhattan. I hear nothing except the humming of the two USB hard drives on my desk.

All in all, this is the same amount of noise I grew up hearing in a quiet suburban neighborhood.

What floor are you on?

It really depends where you are. I live in Montreal, in one of the most active neighborhoods, full of shops, pedestrians and nightlife.

But it's all concentrated on east-west streets (in my area). I live less than a block up from the main artery, and it's completely silent here. Ground floor apartment, window onto the street.

I'm surprised no one found this condemnation of a society "constantly getting louder with this new internet generation" to be oddly similar to the idea that "each successive generation is getting more and more immoral" -- an idea that I would argue has not only been thoroughly debunked, but also rather impossible as well.

Of course I'm not saying that overall our cities haven't increased in their background volume by virtue of more people and things such as air planes and leaf blowers, but to go another step further and call a entire generation of people inconsiderate and loud because they're used to being on a "solipsistic" internet smacks of a classic sense generational moral superiority.

And I'm also just as surprised that to come here, with as good of a community as I feel HN has, after scanning through the comments section, not a single person mentioned this in the first comment in each comment-tree. Instead it was a mess of "well, yes, us quiet people are so superior...".

It seems plausible that with the steadily increasing population density the overall loudness or chances of being near a source of loudness is actually increasing.

Also, "more immoral" is a claim going back thousands of years, which is in large part what makes it unlikely. The claim that the internet generation is louder is only making a claim about a trend in the last 20 years or so.

The article notes: "In his recent treatise on this subject (its title regrettably unprintable here), the philosopher Aaron James posits that people with this personality type are so infuriating — even when the inconvenience they cause us is negligible — because they refuse to recognize the moral reality of those around them."

Out of curiosity, I searched for Aaron James and found the book whose title could not be mentioned: Assholes: A Theory.[1] From Amazon's review of the book:

What does it mean for someone to be an asshole? The answer is not obvious, despite the fact that we are often personally stuck dealing with people for whom there is no better name. Try as we might to avoid them, assholes are found everywhere—at work, at home, on the road, and in the public sphere. Encountering one causes great difficulty and personal strain, especially because we often cannot understand why exactly someone should be acting like that.

Asshole management begins with asshole understanding. Much as Machiavelli illuminated political strategy for princes, this book finally gives us the concepts to think or say why assholes disturb us so, and explains why such people seem part of the human social condition, especially in an age of raging narcissism and unbridled capitalism. These concepts are also practically useful, as understanding the asshole we are stuck with helps us think constructively about how to handle problems he (and they are mostly all men) presents. We get a better sense of when the asshole is best resisted, and when he is best ignored—a better sense of what is, and what is not, worth fighting for.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Assholes-A-Theory-Aaron-James/dp/03855...

Off topic, but I think that's the most beautiful illustration I've ever seen accompanying an article. And the animation - just wonderful.

(I've visiting from my laptop. Assuming mobile version probably doesn't look the same.)

I concur. It's both beautiful and understated—I appreciate the visual acuity, but I am more impressed with the fact that NYT, of all, is finally growing past the era of crying "we're interactive!!!" out loud and starting to make good, subtle and tasteful use of unique properties of the Web. This is elegant.

This was incredibly evident during the election. They're really leading the pack in terms of using newer technologies as more than a tool to draw attention to their articles, but to actually add depth to them.

Its very nice, but I think the rapid motion is a little much for reading- they could do the same thing with a slower frame rate and more blurred outside, it might be more comfortable

I agree, I've been reading NYT online for years and never seen an animated gif illustration before. I quite like it.

agreed, my first thought was that it was one of the best uses of animated gifs i'd ever seen.

I might be oversimplifying it, but the GIF might have something to do with this: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/11/us-word-of-the-ye...

The animation is present on mobile devices as well, though perhaps not on their mobile-formatted site. Do they even serve that site to WebKit browsers anymore? If so, they shouldn't.

The funny thing is that two months ago when I was taking a train in France with some friends, instead of having a quiet car, they had a noisy car. And it was really quiet in there, by our American standards. There were quite a few elderly couples in the car, it seemed. We were talking and laughing and were probably the loudest on the car. At the end, the person I was traveling with who knew French remarked that the family next to us was talking about how loud and annoying we were. No one told us to be quiet, of course, since this was the loud car.

One of the following things is true:

* Americans speak louder than other people

* Something about the American accent means spoken American travels further and more piercingly than other languages

* People expect Americans to be louder, so there's massive selection bias at work...

Having travelled long and far, I suspect it's all three...

"Respecting shared public space is becoming as quaintly archaic as tipping your hat to a lady, now that the concept of public space is as nearly extinct as hats, and ladies."

...and there you get it. It's really about someone pining for the golden age, and habits that weren't as innocuous as he presents it.

Nowadays we have to live in the same space with millions of people, who all have different needs and habits. The kinds practicing rap on public transport are probably using one of the few spaces they feel safe to do so. It's annoying to you, but in your golden age half of them probably wouldn't grow into their current age, and the rest would be working in a factory. And just your hat-tipping-gentleman social position would mean that you can order them around. Unless you're unlucky enough to actually be one of them. Is this really something we want to present as more civilized? Because for me, the respect is obvious in that people can do a lot more than in your golden age (which was mostly more stinky and loud than in your icons).

We get quiet cars. We are able to acoustically isolate areas in libraries to an extent impossible. And at least Swiss quiet cars are actually quiet cars, so your headphones and typing is annoying others, and you will be reproached for it, so please use a notebook.

While settling down I talked a bit with my neighbors. And there's one thing I found out: I'm not the quiet one. We all were. Just at different times. When I shut down on the weekend, my upstairs neighbor likes to exercise. At time I like playing computer games, she does late work from home stuff. And your noisy teenagers may turn out to read books or code at home. No matter how impossible it seems to you that a woman with a cellphone might actually be a coder, or an artist.

Ah, and more and more railways are carrying quiet cars. So maybe portraying them as last vestiges of your vow-of-silence lifestyle is somewhat misguided.

That was a very nice post. Thank you.

Oh lord, yes. My particular nemesis: leaf blowers.

My office is in a residential neighborhood. The sound of a gas powered leaf blower is at just the right frequency to penetrate the double-pane windows, my noise-isolating earbuds, and it somehow overcomes all background noise. The whine and revving is audible. All. Day. Long. From every direction.

I imagine to the operators it seems like a sensible choice -- What harm can I possibly be doing? I'm just one guy blowing some leaves around! But to me -- the guy four blocks over trying to write code for a living -- it hurts deep in my soul, and I wonder when exactly we became so fearful of physical activity. When did we forget how to USE A RAKE?!?!

I know, I know. Cry me a river.

Agreed. Those things are the worst. Hopefully the broom and rake have a renaissance.

Doubt it.

The person using a leaf blower isn't using one because they enjoy it. They have another 5000 places to manicure afterward—a rake no longer enters the equation since its coefficient of expedience is so low. This in turn, of course, impacts price. The employer of said manicurist passed the buck because they didn't have the time to rake it themselves.

I'd imagine that for those irritated by things of the sort, when it comes to irritants, unkempt yards would also somehow find a way to break concentrations as widely as loud leaf blowers.

If it truly were an expedient, I would be able to understand a little better, but based on observations of my neighbors' leaf blowing routines, it is no faster than I am when I'm raking the yard. Even the professional landscapers that swarm the neighborhood take their sweet time. A good rake can push a huge amount of leaves across a yard in no time.

Considering the headgear the blower operators wear, they must know it is horrible, but they don't care, because they need/want the money for the job. Or they have gone deaf.

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