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My fear is that their hearing may already have been impacted past the point of objectively understanding how loud their music is.“Loudness” is a relative term, of course, and therein lies one crux of the problem.In a society where people in restaurants wishing simply to converse with their tablemates must shout in order to be heard over the booming, bouncing, and totally inappropriate dance music being piped in to the room?In such a situation, even the right of one to experience “quiet desperation” appears hopelessly endangered.The only phrase that makes this assessment now seem dated is the reference to the “half of us” who are plugged into digital listening devices, since it has become the case that those who are not plugged in constitute a steadily diminishing minority.There is statistical data on what constitutes injurious decibel levels.—and often even on the ears of those in surrounding vehicles?If the recorded music I hear from the house down the block when I step out my front door is already too loud for my comfort from where I’m standing, how must this music sound to those inside the house?

But in what just “war” was my distinguished colleague fighting?Contemporary hearing loss is most obviously the result of quantity—decibel level—but it is carrying along with it three further varieties of loss: an insensitivity to sound quality; another condition that I will call social impairment; and finally, and most catastrophically (as Oliver Sacks perceived), a general lack of awareness of the total environment in which one is attempting to lead a meaningful life.Excessive amplification, with its accompanying overloads, distortion, and feedback, frequently has an inverse effect on the quality of sound, to the point often that the process of amplification itself is the only thing actually being heard.I already know far too many friends and colleagues of my generation who suffer from ear ailments attributable to excessively amplified music.These ailments are not limited to hearing loss, but include ringing or buzzing in the ears.

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