noise pollution

[OPINION] Quiet has become a luxury

Odeza Gayl Urmatam

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[OPINION] Quiet has become a luxury

Graphic by Raffy de Guzman

'For the urban poor...noise is an inescapable part of life'

Tech company Apple made headlines last year when they launched wireless earphones with noise-canceling and 20-hour battery life features. The price tag? Around P26,000, more expensive than some of Apple’s own phones and tablets. Some Filipino netizens were outraged.

My friends and I, a group of twenty-somethings struggling at adulting, were no different. As soon as the ads were up, our group chat was flooded with incredulous remarks at the cost of the Apple Airpods Max.

With some of us on work-from-home arrangements, and taking up classes online, a noise-canceling headphone would be helpful with productivity and concentration. Silence from this bustling world could also be beneficial to our mental and physical health. Some of the research I’ve read show that silence has a positive effect on our mental well-being, brain development, and social relationships.

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But we knew we wouldn’t be able to afford the earphones with one paycheck, especially with the increasing prices of basic goods and services.

The release of the Airpods Max manifests how silence has become an expensive commodity in the modern world. This is especially true in highly-urbanized cities, thanks to the clamor of mass transit and busy throngs of people working day and night.

It is also reflected in the VIP rooms of hotels and restaurants, where silence, exclusivity, and privacy are higher priced. Halls are heavily carpeted, walls are soundproofed. Even car companies nowadays bank on “noise-reduction technology” and quiet engines. The silence of a cruising car lends it a luxury feel and becomes a sign of affluence. Quiet is bought at staggering prices, accessible only to the rich. 

For the urban poor, however, noise is an inescapable part of life. In the morning, roaring highway traffic and the hubbub of people heading home after a rough night shift are enough to wake one up. Strangely, it is this same noise from early in the morning that lulls them to sleep at night.

Adding to the external noise is one’s inner turmoil, which is constantly affected by one’s social and economic state – worrying about what to eat the next day; wondering whether the next check will be enough to pay the monthly bills; or growing anxious with the worsening state of public health.

Even in the much-romanticized probinsya, silence is superficial. In conflict-vulnerable communities, quiet and tranquility cannot be found amid gurgling stomachs and the heavy stomping of military boots. They cannot be found amid the sound of peasants hurriedly carrying sacks of rice as cloudy skies threaten to dampen their harvests. They are drowned by the cries of fishermen in small boats forced to go home without a haul because they were threatened in their own seas.

It seems that even silence is too much to ask for these days, even in our prayers. 

There is an apparent contrast between the rich and the poor when it comes to accessing “quietude.” While noise has become a normal affliction for the poor; silence has become a luxury only the rich can afford. –

Odeza Gayl A. Urmatam, 22, is from Camalaniugan, Cagayan. She is currently a graduate student taking up her Master’s degree in Public Administration at the University of St. Louis-Tuguegarao. 

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