07:15
TEDGlobal 2010

Julian Treasure: Shh! Sound health in 8 steps

Filmed:

Julian Treasure says our increasingly noisy world is gnawing away at our mental health -- even costing lives. He lays out an 8-step plan to soften this sonic assault (starting with those cheap earbuds) and restore our relationship with sound.

- Sound consultant
Julian Treasure studies sound and advises businesses on how best to use it. Full bio

The Hindus say, "Nada brahma,"
00:16
one translation of which is, "The world is sound."
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And in a way, that's true, because everything is vibrating.
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In fact, all of you as you sit here right now are vibrating.
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Every part of your body is vibrating at different frequencies.
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So you are, in fact, a chord --
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each of you an individual chord.
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One definition of health may be
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that that chord is in complete harmony.
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Your ears can't hear that chord;
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they can actually hear amazing things. Your ears can hear 10 octaves.
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Incidentally, we see just one octave.
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Your ears are always on -- you have no ear lids.
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They work even when you sleep.
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The smallest sound you can perceive
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moves your eardrum just four atomic diameters.
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The loudest sound you can hear
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is a trillion times more powerful than that.
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Ears are made not for hearing,
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but for listening.
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Listening is an active skill,
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whereas hearing is passive, listening is something that we have to work at --
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it's a relationship with sound.
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And yet it's a skill that none of us are taught.
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For example, have you ever considered that there are listening positions,
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places you can listen from?
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Here are two of them.
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Reductive listening is listening "for."
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It reduces everything down to what's relevant
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and it discards everything that's not relevant.
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Men typically listen reductively.
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So he's saying, "I've got this problem."
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He's saying, "Here's your solution. Thanks very much. Next."
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That's the way we talk, right guys?
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Expansive listening, on the other hand,
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is listening "with," not listening "for."
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It's got no destination in mind --
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it's just enjoying the journey.
01:40
Women typically listen expansively.
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If you look at these two, eye contact, facing each other,
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possibly both talking at the same time.
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(Laughter)
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Men, if you get nothing else out of this talk,
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practice expansive listening,
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and you can transform your relationships.
01:55
The trouble with listening is that so much of what we hear
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is noise, surrounding us all the time.
02:00
Noise like this, according to the European Union,
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is reducing the health and the quality of life
02:06
of 25 percent
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of the population of Europe.
02:10
Two percent of the population of Europe --
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that's 16 million people --
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are having their sleep devastated
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by noise like that.
02:18
Noise kills
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200,000 people a year in Europe.
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It's a really big problem.
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Now, when you were little, if you had noise and you didn't want to hear it,
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you'd stick your fingers in your ears and hum.
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These days, you can do a similar thing, it just looks a bit cooler.
02:30
It looks a bit like this.
02:33
The trouble with widespread headphone use
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is it brings three really big health issues.
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The first really big health issue is a word that Murray Schafer coined:
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"schizophonia."
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It's a dislocation
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between what you see and what you hear.
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So, we're inviting into our lives
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the voices of people who are not present with us.
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I think there's something deeply unhealthy
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about living all the time in schizophonia.
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The second problem that comes with headphone abuse
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is compression.
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We squash music to fit it into our pocket
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and there is a cost attached to this.
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Listen to this -- this is an uncompressed piece of music.
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(Music)
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And now the same piece of music with 98 percent of the data removed.
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(Music)
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I do hope that some of you at least
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can hear the difference between those two.
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There is a cost of compression.
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It makes you tired and irritable to have to make up all of that data.
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You're having to imagine it.
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It's not good for you in the long run.
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The third problem with headphones is this: deafness --
03:34
noise-induced hearing disorder.
03:37
Ten million Americans already have this for one reason or another,
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but really worryingly,
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16 percent --
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roughly one in six -- of American teenagers
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suffer from noise-induced hearing disorder
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as a result of headphone abuse.
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One study at an American university
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found that 61 percent of college freshmen
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had damaged hearing
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as a result of headphone abuse.
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We may be raising an entire generation of deaf people.
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Now that's a really serious problem.
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I'll give you three quick tips to protect your ears
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and pass these on to your children, please.
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Professional hearing protectors are great;
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I use some all the time.
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If you're going to use headphones, buy the best ones you can afford
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because quality means you don't have to have it so loud.
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If you can't hear somebody talking to you in a loud voice,
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it's too loud.
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And thirdly, if you're in bad sound,
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it's fine to put your fingers in your ears or just move away from it.
04:26
Protect your ears in that way.
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Let's move away from bad sound and look at some friends that I urge you to seek out.
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WWB:
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Wind, water, birds --
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stochastic natural sounds
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composed of lots of individual random events,
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all of it very healthy,
04:43
all of it sound that we evolved to over the years.
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Seek those sounds out; they're good for you and so it this.
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Silence is beautiful.
04:53
The Elizabethans described language
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as decorated silence.
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I urge you to move away from silence with intention
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and to design soundscapes just like works of art.
05:02
Have a foreground, a background, all in beautiful proportion.
05:05
It's fun to get into designing with sound.
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If you can't do it yourself, get a professional to do it for you.
05:10
Sound design is the future,
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and I think it's the way we're going to change the way the world sounds.
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I'm going to just run quickly through eight modalities,
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eight ways sound can improve health.
05:20
First, ultrasound: we're very familiar with it from physical therapy;
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it's also now being used to treat cancer.
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Lithotripsy -- saving thousands of people a year from the scalpel
05:28
by pulverizing stones with high-intensity sound.
05:31
Sound healing is a wonderful modality.
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It's been around for thousands of years.
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I do urge you to explore this.
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There are great things being done there, treating now autism,
05:40
dementia and other conditions.
05:42
And music, of course. Just listening to music is good for you,
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if it's music that's made with good intention,
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made with love, generally.
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Devotional music, good -- Mozart, good.
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There are all sorts of types of music
05:53
that are very healthy.
05:55
And four modalities where you need to take some action
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and get involved.
05:59
First of all, listen consciously.
06:01
I hope that that after this talk you'll be doing that.
06:03
It's a whole new dimension to your life and it's wonderful to have that dimension.
06:05
Secondly, get in touch with making some sound --
06:08
create sound.
06:11
The voice is the instrument we all play,
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and yet how many of us are trained in using our voice? Get trained;
06:15
learn to sing, learn to play an instrument.
06:18
Musicians have bigger brains -- it's true.
06:20
You can do this in groups as well.
06:23
It's a fantastic antidote to schizophonia;
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to make music and sound in a group of people,
06:27
whichever style you enjoy particularly.
06:29
And let's take a stewarding role for the sound around us.
06:32
Protect your ears? Yes, absolutely.
06:34
Design soundscapes to be beautiful around you
06:36
at home and at work.
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And let's start to speak up
06:40
when people are assailing us
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with the noise that I played you early on.
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So I'm going to leave you with seven things you can do right now
06:46
to improve your health with sound.
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My vision is of a world that sounds beautiful
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and if we all start doing these things,
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we will take a very big step in that direction.
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So I urge you to take that path.
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I'm leaving you with a little more birdsong, which is very good for you.
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I wish you sound health.
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(Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Julian Treasure - Sound consultant
Julian Treasure studies sound and advises businesses on how best to use it.

Why you should listen

Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses -- offices, retailers, hotels -- on how to use sound. He asks us to pay attention to the sounds that surround us. How do they make us feel: productive, stressed, energized, acquisitive?

Treasure is the author of the book Sound Business and keeps a blog by the same name that ruminates on aural matters (and offers a nice day-by-day writeup of TEDGlobal 2009). In the early 1980s, Treasure was the drummer for the Fall-influenced band Transmitters.

More profile about the speaker
Julian Treasure | Speaker | TED.com