Thursday, June 11, 2009

Modern life is rubbish loud

So I'm loving my podcasts. I signed up for all your suggestions (and then some), and have stuck with most of them. I save the music podcasts for work; to my surprise I've found that spoken word works better than music for running and other exercise. Having something to actively listen to, rather than familiar music that doesn't require any higher-level processing, seems to take my mind off the fact that I'm doing something so unnatural and ridiculous. The only drawback is that I usually choose comedy, and laughing out loud while running around the cemetery* with a beet-red face tends to make other people cross to the other side of the path.

I do sometimes worry about the effects on my poor abused ears though. I already have mild tinnitus thanks to too many loud gigs and club nights during my student days, and I often struggle to pick out individual conversations at poker night, when six to eight people are usually engaged in three or four separate conversations around one big table. My last comprehensive hearing test results came back as slap bang in the middle of the normal range, and I don't think I've deteriorated much in the four or five years since then, but I'm definitely way down from where I was in my early twenties.

Unfortunately, cranking the iPod volume sometimes seems unavoidable. Take yesterday. I went to apply for my pisspot passport first thing in the morning (it's for a work trip, therefore doing it on work time is OK, right?!), so I took the bus and skytrain downtown to the passport office. Walking to the bus stop along a main road, I had to start turning up the volume to compensate for the noise of the passing cars. It doesn't matter so much with music, but with spoken word you can't start missing five second chunks every twenty seconds. Waiting to cross the intersection with a busier road, I had to turn the volume up again to compensate for the trucks.

On the bus the volume initially came back down, but then got cranked again to compensate for several nearby conversations, each in a different language. Not to mention the noise of the bus, its "next stop" announcements, and passing traffic. Being an electric bus it was silent when not in motion, and I had to hurriedly turn the volume back down at one intersection when all conversations simultaneously stopped and I got worried about my seatmate overhearing parts of the Savage Love cast... (link possibly NSFW, depending on your W).

The skytrain was even worse; I gave up completely once we reached the underground section** and the sound of wheels on rails was joined by the tunnel noises.

But after getting off the train and into the quiet of a very posh mall, I pressed "play" again and was suddenly, painfully, blasted by my over-cranked earbuds.

The same thing happened at work this afternoon when resuming a podcast I'd been listening to at the gym, in competition with the usual sound system, a second music source outside, and frequent tannoy announcements about new classes.

The thing is, in both cases, I'd been struggling to hear the podcast properly before leaving the louder environment. Realising how loud my iPod had actually been, in addition to the potential detrimental effects of the ambient noise in such loud environments, is making me rethink where and when I listen to my iPod. I know you can get those fancy headphones that block all outside noise so you can play your stuff at a much lower volume, but I kinda like to be able to hear oncoming cars when I'm oot and aboot. Plus my iPhone headset has an integral microphone that I use a lot.

Any suggestions?

Oh, and do you like the solution I found to my headset storage problem?

It's now protected and tangle-free, and I got to recycle a tic-tac container into the bargain!


*I promise I'm not being evil or disrespectful! The huge cemetery is positively teeming with joggers, cyclists, and people out walking their dogs (and occasionally, parrots). No-one seems to mind. I do get off my bike and walk through the war memorial and veterans' grave section on my way to and from work though; I could never treat that area as just another part of my commute. And I never run through that section.

**yes, we have underground "sky" trains in Vancouver. We're very special.


  1. Yeah - I've laughed so hard in the gym a couple of times thanks to Ricky Gervais's podcasts and anything by Monty Python I'm sure the other people there think I'm either demented or mentally challenged.

    I also have trouble hearing any spoken stuff anywhere other than in my car or somewhere indoors that I just play music during those times. It's particularly frustrating on long-haul flights when some giggle-inducing material would be awesome but the volume required to overcome the background hum makes my ears hurt. I've heard that the noise-cancelling earphones work well, but I'm not shelling out extra cash for that luxury.

  2. I was also quite surprised when I figured out that listening to someone speak was actually better for working out, especially when doing something terribly boring like running on the treadmill. Distraction is key for me.
    I've noticed the same thing regarding the noise, but these situations are infrequent enough (I typically run outside and I don't take the bus anymore), so I haven't been motivated to seek an alternative.
    And, yes I do like the case. :)

  3. I have the oustide noise blocking earphones, and indeed you don't need to pump them up, but I sometimes forget that then I cannot rely on my ears to cross the street (well, for checking the presence of danger anyway, my feet are enough when it comes to the actual crossing) and have sometimes been a danger because of it.

  4. PiT, I'm glad it's not just me! I've never seen anyone else do it in person though.

    I potentially have a very long haul flight coming up this year and I might consider the noise-cancelling headphones for that...

    MXX, you're right, it's all about distraction! I only take the bus once every couple of weeks or so, and I'm only going to the gym once a week, so I guess it might be OK - 2 days in a row was a bit worrying though!

    Stepwise, I'm spaced out enough in the mornings without being deaf to traffic! I think I'll give them a miss for walking and bussing around town, but I might consider them for flying.

  5. Noise cancelling headseet is great except when there are cell phones around. Then you get the annoying feedback if your headset is in noise cancelling mode. For some reason I haven't figured out yet.

  6. I love listening to books/podcasts when working out too, both because it distracts me from the actual working out, and because it lets me set my own running pace. Besides, looking forward to the next chapter in a book is an extra motivation to go on that next run!

  7. Sucky problem. But I agree that spoken word gets me through boring stuff much better than music.

    Could you set a threshold volume on your pod, after which you would give up on the headphones until the setting changed? Like, only listen when the ambient noise is quiet enough for sensible headphone volume, and if you have to turn the volume up to X, you turn it off or switch to music that you don't mind missing a few bars of. That way you wouldn't let the volume creep up to some crazy loud level and burn your poor 'drums.

  8. HG girl, that's interesting. My desktop computer speakers do the same thing when my phone rings.

    SG, that's true! I've used the "well at least I can finish listening to that podcast" motivation technique to push myself over the edge and into my running shoes too!

    EGF, good idea - I'll look ino how to set that up. In iTunes maybe? The thing with the iPhone is that you can alter the volume with either a proper (i.e. hardware) button on the side, or with a sliding tab on the touch screen, so if you boost both, it gets mega-loud.

  9. Just as a suggestion for headphones. Active noise cancelling ones are great if you've got the cash. I don't know how good they are with sudden unpredicable noises. I have some passive noise cancelling ones from Shure (SE210). Definitely recommend them. I'm sure that other people make similar things. They have a fitting that goes into your ear that works exactly like those foam earplugs that you squish up and insert and let expand to fill your ear. This means they block out external sound and as a consequence you can turn your own MP3 player down. Haven't looked back since I got mine. Definitely need to watch when you're crossing the street though.


I promise to respond to all respectful non-spam comments! Don't be shy! Oh, and please don't type my surname in your comments; I know you all know what it is, but I'd prefer Google to rank other pages before this blog.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.