THE INVASION OF THE DEAFENERS
In 1976, I went to a class reunion. The music there was so loud that one was required to shout in another's ear to be able to communicate. Reunions are times when the ability to converse is valued. The musicians were asked on numerous occasions to reduce the volume of the music. They said that they could not hear themselves playing if the volume were reduced - and they were sitting directly in front of their own speakers already. To me, this reunion was ruined and I have refused to go to another.
There are laws in most states the prevent sounds from creating deafness. Walls are required around housing developments so that excessive noise from adjacent freeways cannot intrude. At one time, lawsuits due to damage from "acoustic shock" was something that telephone companies feared. The old AT&T telephones were designed to prevent excessive sound volume from being passed on to the customer. Excessively loud parties were not allowed, and sound in public places such as movie theaters was kept at a safe level.
Today, the cheap telephone sets (and all of them are cheap), that we are forced to buy if we wish to have a telephone, have nothing to prevent accoustic shock for the user of the phone. Loud parties are the norm, and the sound volume in movie theaters is beyond "excessive". But why should anyone care?
The human ear is a very remarkable device. As Isaac Asimov mentioned in one of his books, if our ears are undamaged, they can detect sound energy equivalent to that coming from a faint star. Yet, when loud sounds occur, the ear has a means of defending itself - up to a point. Our hearing mechanism is composed of the outer ear and its channel to the eardrum, the middle ear, and nerves and brain cells that are communicators and interpreters of sound. The middle ear and the nerves are the parts most likely to sustain damage from loud sounds.
The middle ear has a part called a hammer, another part called an anvil, and part called a cochlea in which there is fluid and many hair-like appendages. Very soft sounds are transmitted by means of the hammer striking the anvil without impediment of any kind. But loud sounds when detected in time, cause a muscle to dampen the blow of the hammer so that inner ear damage cannot occur. However, sounds that are much too loud cannot be adequately dampened, and the dampening muscle will tire so that the loud sounds can overpower it. The result is either (1) the ripping-out of the hair-like appendages in the cochlea (they will not grow back), and/or (2) permanent damage to the nerves from these appendages to the brain.
Once the damage has occurred, the level of sound must be raised for it to be heard easily. This merely causes more damage - which causes one to increase the volume of the sound so that more damage can occur. This is not a problem for those who are too stupid to care, and they can blissfully grow more and more deaf. However, they expose their children and other people to ear-damaging sound. They play their TV's, radios, and CD's too loud at home and they take their children to movies where the sound is excessively loud. They throw parties which normal people can hear in the next county.
How did this happen? Is it a plot by a foreign government to make each generation deaf at an earlier age? I don't think so. We are much too weak mentally for any foreign power to make a difference. First, we began to compete for material possessions to the point that both parents had to work. Then our children were considered to be inviolate so that they could do anything they wanted without fear of punishment. This caused those children (1) to be neglected, and (2) to attempt to correct the situation by drawing attention to themselves. Then entered the boom-box generation.
The boom-box generation attempted to be as loud as possible. To them, louder was always better and louder was power to be noticed. No one had ever actually given them any decent explanation as to the anatomy of our auditory apparatus. Certainly, no course on the ear was given in school. So they were completely ignorant of the long-term consequences of their actions.
This was not too bad at first. For the most part, they managed to succeed in deafening only themselves. But then they grew up and had children. Their children became partly deaf at an earlier age due to their parents need of loudness in the home. When the children grew up, they passed on this tradition to their children, and so on it went with each generation growing more and more deaf.
From the beginning, the trend affected society in a larger sense. Those who suffered from hearing loss began to enter the job market. They became law officers who failed to enforce the laws which governed loudness. After all, they could not even detect the fact that a loud sound was loud. They became the ones who designed and manufactured cheap telephones that allowed acoustic shock to be the norm. They became involved in the field of auditory electronics so that louder hi-fi sets, radios, and TV sets could be produced. They even statistically affected the norms for hearing so that the results of hearing tests were changed to consider them (those will hearing loss) normal in hearing ability.
Today, there are only a few of us left who know what is happening to our nation in regard to hearing. It is like the movie called The Invasion of the Body Snatchers in which the horror is spreading. We can watch, but what can we do now to stop the spread of the deafness? Perhaps, it is too late to affect a cure. However, there a some things which can be done to slow the disease. First and foremost, people must be educated as to why sounds are dangerous. Second, those of us who know of the danger can use earplugs to save our own hearing. Third, when the level of sound at any location is too excessive for the earplugs to stop it, we should leave the area immediately. Do not worry about thanking the host or hostess of the party first - if they are insulted, perhaps they should be insulted. Fourth, we should not allow our children to be exposed to ear-damaging sound levels (this is a tough one because their friends are often the perpetrators - a good education from you should help). Fifth, if involved in planning a party, reunion, or other gathering where music plays a part, we should insist that the volume be kept down, and, should this fail, the band should be removed from the premises.
Creation of hearing loss due to loud sounds is form of battery (in legal terms). It is the same as hitting someone with one's fist but is usually more damaging in the long run. In fact, it is a much more objectionable form of assault because the victim cannot heal or be healed from it. Perhaps the ambulance chasers of the legal profession can start a trend of lawsuits against those who insist upon damaging our ears. This necessary because the laws are not enforced for this type of criminal offense.
Unfortunately, I am guilty in the sense that I was stupid enough to be manipulated into attending a party yesterday for someone with a terrible disease, and this someone turned out to be responsible for ruining the hearing of many other folks, including innocent children. Pity kept me there too long and my ears sustained sufficient damage (even with earplugs) that they are ringing unmercifully today as a grim reminder. My pity has disappeared, and I doubt that I will ever again allow the pity ploy to dominate my reasoning mind - at least when it comes to parties. No, I am not bitter toward my hostess, but I am bitter about my own gullibility.