Friday, August 29, 2008

Listen, Children, and You Shall Hear...SENSORY OVERLOAD

Really - stop what you're doing and listen.
What do you hear?
At this moment, I hear:
the soft hum of my computer, the sounds of Max and Ruby - a show my seven year old loves - on the TV, the motor of my refrigerator, my mother's window air-conditioner in her room upstairs along with her table-top radio (she needs noise to asleep), the ceiling fan's buzz while it swishes the air as it spins, the hum of my neighbor's central air-conditioner, various cars, trucks, and motorcycles as they zip past my house, the construction trucks working (loudly) on the next block as they widen the street, the BEEP BEEP BEEP as a truck goes in reverse, a siren in the distance, the BOOM BOOM BOOM of a ghetto cruising rap/crap listener...and that's just the sounds from within my home - day or night.

Now, how about as I drive my car or van:
all windows are down so, as I drive 40 mph down Gratiot Avenue, I have the wind blowing quite loudly in my ears, the radio blares The Beatles so I can hear the music over the wind, the myriads of other vehicles passing me (and me passing them) even louder than the wind and the radio, screeching tires, a police car with an ear-piercing siren zipping by me...all this besides the sound of my own auto's motor.

And then there are other sounds I hear and do not give a second thought to daily:
the phone ringing, pagers going off, a high-speed train chugging by just a couple miles away, the buzzing from the florescent lights overhead, speaker phones, electronic toys bleeping, the drills and screeches of various machinery for the various blue-collar workers, the motor of a jet plane flying overhead...

And I have just scratched the surface.

Let's imagine what our ancestors heard 150 years ago:
the ticking of the wind-up clock, the clip-clopping of horses hooves with maybe the squeaking of a wood wagon as they trod on the dirt or (if you lived in the heart of town) the wood-plank or brick road, a real church bell (not the canned, electronic "bell" as heard so often in our modern times), dogs barking, birds chirping, the snap and crackle of the cooking fire (or the warming fire, depending the time of year), the sound of a coal-burning train chugging (if you were near a town), possibly the rumble of a gristmill if you lived close enough to one, possibly the screech of a sawmill (again, if you lived close enough to one), the squeak of the hand pump to retrieve water, the tapping of a hammer making repairs, a handsaw, more than likely cows mooing, chickens squawking, horses neighing, pigs snorting...

Now, think about what we see:
I am sitting at my computer with a 19" digital monitor while our digital 32" television brightly shows the vivid colors of cartoons right behind me along with the screaming commercials - buy! buy! buy!, with a flick of a switch I get instant light - unnaturally bright lights - no matter what time of day or night, my home phone and cell phone both light up when someone is calling me, digital numbers on the microwave, lights on the stereo...

And on Gratiot:
Whizzing down the Avenue at 40 miles per hour, I best be sure my attention is on everything - the other vehicles driving just as fast (or, in many cases, faster), swerving in and out of the lanes - there are three lanes going in each direction - six lanes in all - not including the "Michigan Left Turn" lanes - and folks cutting each other off right and left, stop lights, construction warning signs and flashing lights, pot holes, street signs, billboards, store fronts, pedestrians on foot and bicycles crossing here and there, the strong gas and oil smells as we wait at a red light...did I forget anything?

And let's not forget what you must watch out for while walking - everything in the above paragraph as well as looking both ways numerous times before running across the street.

Now, 150 years ago:
Natural daylight, fireplace, candle-light, or oil lamp to light the rooms, clip clopping down the road at a few miles an hour at best if you had a horse, the over-abundance of trees shade the way, if you are pulling a wagon there would be lots of bumping and rocking, another horse with or without a wagon behind it, a number of pedestrians, possibly mud and definitely animal excrement to look out for if you are walking...did I miss anything?

As I drove down Gratiot the other day, seeing and hearing all that I described in the above modern descriptive paragraphs, I wondered - how would my 3rd great grandfather, William Raby, who died at the age of 65 in 1887, have reacted to all of this extreme sensory overload swirling about his head if he were suddenly pulled from his time and brought up to our time, riding next to me in my van cruising down Gratiot? Would it have a dizzying effect on him, as I suspect it would? Or would he be able to take it all in stride? Would the sheer volume and flashiness of our world be too much for him?
I know when I have spent time at a reenactment out in the country (like Hastings, Michigan or Fayett Ohio) or even just away from the city taking a walk, I get a bit overwhelmed upon returning to my city home.
There was a time, around 20 years ago, when, while staying at the family cottage near Lexington, Mi (off Lake Huron), my wife and I used to be able to take evening walks with hardly any modern sounds invading our peacefulness. Now, it seems, we are invaded by, again, the BOOM BOOM BOOM of the ghetto cruiser, the constant flow of golf carts, kids on scooters - and this is on the country dirt roads outside of Lexington! It's to the point that a peaceful evening's stroll - city or country - is almost a thing of the past.
My dear wife seems to have to turn on a light day or night. I prefer having no unnatural lights until necessary. Even when I turn them on, I will have them low on the dimmer switch. Actually, come the Autumn time of year, I begin to burn our hand-dipped candles.
Natural light and natural sounds.
I feel my stress leaving already...


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