On January 31, 2020, the International Year of Sound held its opening ceremony at Sorbonne University in Paris – where there was much optimism for the education and advancement in the understanding of sound and how it affects our daily lives. COVID-19 was just starting to enter into the world vocabulary, and we all met with no masks, no social distancing, and no restrictions (France had only just identified a few cases that very week.) Little did we know how the year would eventually evolve. Lock downs, Zoom meetings, working-from-home, and the virtualization of our interactions brought to light some issues that many of us had taken for granted.
Our personal spaces have become full of sound, with adults working and doing virtual meetings, while the children are taking classes from home. The dogs are barking, the toddlers are toddling, the neighbors are jamming, and we are all becoming keenly aware of our acoustic environments. This is a situation that we didn’t know we were going to be facing at that opening ceremony in Paris. Some people never considered having to work from home, much less having a home office and having to work from home daily. Even if you had a home office, did you really consider what it looked like… or sounded like?
This melding of personal space and workspace has created some conflicts. When you want a quiet space to work, you may be competing with your child’s virtual gym class in the other room, or your neighbor upstairs trying their best to stay active while the lock down has closed the gym – but these aren’t the only issues. Maybe earbuds hurt your ears, or you are using the microphone on your webcam and people keep complaining about how it’s hard to understand you. Speech intelligibility declines in poor acoustic environments and the acoustics of your home office may now have become an issue to others… not just if you understand them – but if they can understand you.
And it’s not just work and school… we are spending much more time in our homes this year. People are realizing that their TV’s are becoming home theaters, and the room maybe doesn’t sound that good. We are asking more of our home environments – we are asking them to be our offices, gyms, theaters, workshops, studios, as well as where we eat and sleep. Many are making improvements to their homes to block sounds from their offices, improve the sound within the home office, make a better sounding TV room, and acoustically treating the kids’ rooms – to hopefully improve sanity for everyone.
However, not everything is so easily solved. If you are in a multi-family dwelling, your neighbors may have different schedules than you. They may be night-shift tech-support, or sales for a different time-zone, or work for an international company. Maybe their home office is directly adjacent to your bedroom, or your home theater is causing them problems. Some have learned to adapt with sound masking solutions, acoustic treatments, or improvising their own home-grown solutions to address sound problems.
So, 2020 has not been the year we thought it would be in January. We have had to learn to compromise in the face of adversity to improve this situation for everyone – and it’s more than just making our home sound better for work or leisure. This goes beyond our own walls, and our own ears. Improving acoustics helps our neighbors work and their children learn. We are helping our co-workers and our customers. We are making the best of a difficult situation – while looking to the future with hope and optimism.
Here we sit at the end of 2020… and the International Year of Sound has been extended into 2021. We have learned many lessons, and have had to solve problems we never thought we would have to face. The world sounds very different now – we have found new ways to experience entertainment, new ways to work, new ways to play, and new ways to socialize.
Moving forward, we will need to integrate these solutions into our future reality. The Year of Sound has taught us lessons through adversity that we would have never learned otherwise – and those lessons of hope, optimism, tolerance, ingenuity, and compromise will serve us well as we face whatever the future holds.