Tuesday, 29 January 2013


There's been a lot of discussion lately on children being excluded from cafes because the noise they make disturbs other customers. I have to say my initial, personal, reaction was one of incredulity.  I have a lot of trouble hearing over background noise. My sensory sensitivities  mean the effect of background noise can be stress, meltdowns, vomiting, exhaustion for days, physical pain and more. Virtually every cafe plays music which causes these - and it is considered the norm. And yet people who ignore or defend this are suddenly making a massive drama about the noise of children.

Is it plausible that some people find the sounds of children harder than music to process, and that this comes back to their neurology or hearing levels? Absolutely. But whilst they may govern individual reactions, there are reasons the discussion moves in particular ways, why some types or causes of noise are paid attention to and others aren't.

How we create, manage, respond to, noise is a political issue. It's an issue of how we designate areas where people live, how times noise is considered to be acceptable play into typical and atypical working and sleeping times. It's about who decides the timeframe of noisy work on their house, and who has a landlord make those decisions for them. It's about noise being used to drive young people away from hanging out on the street or homeless people from public toilets. It's about who uses public transport and who drives cars. It's about disability and typical and atypical levels of noise tolerance and their impacts. And it's about children and parents - usually mothers - being excluded from social and other public space.

I want discussions about noise. The current way noise persists in our society is awful and disabling for me and many others. I think there are better ways space can be designed and organised. But those discussions need to come from a place of accommodation and inclusivity for multiple needs, not one of reinforcing the same old patterns of marginalisation and exclusion.  


SubStrata said...

I too am noise phobic - but very generalized within my large zone of personal space. My extremely disturbing neighbouring children continually scrapping outside my windows, are almost unbearable to my ears, yet I can bear Pavarotti at full volume as a noise cancelling device. With toddlers running rampant & squealing thru our small local supermarket on Monday again I found that very hard to endure. Maybe it is pitch more than volume? I'm a decades long feminist so for me its not about excluding women & children from public spaces, it's about caregivers considering others.

Wojciech Zbik said...

I agree it is an issue. For me at least. Always was. Loud music in a workplace- totaly contrary to the principle of equal opportunity, but deffended as a part of culture. Neighbours imposing their musical test on others, or the silly fifeblowers, which create horendous noise, while spreding dust and rubish everywhere.

ChundaMars said...

Children are far from the noisiest thing at cafes anyway - the bloody espresso machines, with their steam and grinders and clanking, make a hell of a racket.