In Pursuit of Silence

According to Lentin (2014), three of the five noisiest cities in the world are in India, Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Kolkata (Calcutta), and Delhi.  These are highly populated cities, with about 13 million, 14.3 million and 18 million people respectively.  Known as the entertainment, commercial fashion and financial centers for India, they all have severe city traffic and overpopulation, leading to noise levels of over 100 decibels. Mumbai has been declared the noisiest city in the world in numerous studies. The worst noise offenders for all  Indian cities are the continuous construction, loudspeakers, firecrackers, festivals, honking, rickshaws and taxis. Other cities in the world with high noise levels include Cairo, Tokyo, Madrid, Buenos Aires, and Shanghai.  

Noise is not only disturbing, it’s dangerous to mankind as it may harm the activity or balance of human or animal life. The main sources of most outdoor noise worldwide are machines and transportation systemsmotor vehicles engines, aircraft, and trains.  Outdoor noise is summarized by the word environmental noise. Poor urban planning may give rise to noise pollution, since side-by-side industrial and residential buildings can result in noise pollution in the residential areas. Documented problems associated with urban noise go back as far as Ancient Rome.

New York City is the loudest city in North America and, according to studies, the 7th loudest city in the world. NYC residents are often looking for ways to soundproof their homes, offices, nurseries, dorms and elsewhere to live and work in more peaceful and productive environments.  Although NYC is currently the loudest in Americ, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston are probably only a few decibels behind. While noise-induced hearing loss can be caused by outside (e.g. trains) or inside (e.g. music) noise, there are also other issues that are caused by excess noise, such as an increased incidence of coronary artery disease in humans. In animals, noise can increase the risk of death by altering predator or prey detection and avoidance, interfere with reproduction and navigation, and contribute to permanent hearing loss. 

George Prochnik’s 2010 book, entitled In the Pursuit of Silence, investigated the unexpected paradoxes at the heart of our relationship with sound: we create noise in order to soundproof ourselves, and we create noise by clamoring for silence. There is a difference between mere noise control and genuine silence, and Prochnik makes an eloquent case for the latter, whether in the form of personal contemplation or communal spaces of tranquility.  He admits to loving quiet, to relishing conversations without straining to hear, and looking up from a book he is reading without being assaulted by the sound of television news broadcasts. He also feels that one of the most bothersome things about noise pollution in these times is that sound imposes a narrative on you. Prochnik cites the silence of a Quaker meeting, the stillness of a walk in space by an astronaut, or the idea of silence as “a break, a rest, a road to reflection, renewal, and personal growth.”

 In his book, Prochnik focuses on the benefits of silence as a precious resource and the different factors which have stimulated us to become such a loud society.  Recently, Patrick Shen created a film which investigated silence around the world. In Pursuit of Silence, takes the viewer on “an immersive cinematic journey around the globe – from a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto, to the streets of the loudest city on the planet, Mumbai during the wild festival season – and inspires viewers to experience silence and celebrate the wonders of our world. “(Click on the movie poster for a short video on the benefits of silence). 

Prochnik reminds us that absolute silence doesn’t exist but that quiet spaces are essential because they “can inject us with a fertile unknown: a space in which to focus and absorb experience”.



 Lentin, M. (2014). Top 10 noisiest cities in the world.  Citiquiet. Retrieved June 27, 2017.



Chen, P. (2017).  In pursuit of Silence, Exclusive Trailer.  Published June 5, 2017.  You Retrieved June 27, 2017.

About Robert Traynor

Robert M. Traynor is a board certified audiologist with 45 years of clinical practice in audiology. He is a hearing industry consultant, trainer, professor, conference speaker, practice manager, and author. He has 45 years experience teaching courses and training clinicians within the field of audiology with specific emphasis in hearing and tinnitus rehabilitation. Currently, he is an adjunct professor in various university audiology programs.