I grew up in a large family, and with a large family, you tend to do everything big—larger than life. Dinners, camping trips, birthday parties, pets, you name it, we did it, and it always came with an expected level of cacophony. You could always tell who wasn’t home yet by the level of sound emanating from our house. And of course, this level of activity always attracted friends. It wasn’t uncommon to have double-digit numbers of people at our house for dinner on any given night—no matter if there was school the next day or not.
One clear memory I have from childhood is if one of us kids were missing around the dinner table (because of a game, sleep over, whatever) my father would pause, look at my mother and ask, “Where is everybody?”
One person missing. That’s all it took to alter the soundscape of our family. Those normal, expected sounds that communicated to my father that all was right. Those customary, expected sounds communicated to my father that all his children were present and accounted for. That our home environment was as it should be.
As one might expect, we grew up, married, and produced little noise-makers of our own. This was when I truly understood what my father was hearing and reacting to. The environment that was our home growing up had a certain soundscape that was normal, productive, safe. When the soundscape was altered, however, my father noticed immediately, even though he wasn’t sure why.
I’ve experienced this environmental awareness in many different places and situations, and I’ve become adept at identifying why an environment makes me feel comfortable, nervous, relaxed, and even productive. Of our senses, I believe hearing is the most undervalued of the five. It’s not until we lose this sense that the value of it is realized. More importantly though, is how this sense impacts our interactions with each other, our moods, our energy levels, and even our ability to deal with stressful situations.
I believe there is a type of renaissance taking place with respect to sound in our environments. More and more people (and businesses) are realizing that sound has a huge impact on us. I see evidence of this impact in the increasing frequency of articles and discussions around sound in our various spaces, and how designing the acoustics of a space are important (think schools, hospitals, and open/shared work spaces). People are expecting spaces to be suited to their specific function and a one-size-fits-all usually isn’t the best approach.
Whether we work in education, healthcare, or a corporate building, we’re beginning to realize that sound has a big impact on us and how well we live within our spaces. I know it’s something that impacts me greatly, and something that I am always responding to.
And now it’s suddenly too quiet…I’d better go check on my little noise-makers and make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing, where they’re supposed to be doing it.