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TEDGlobal 2010

Julian Treasure: Shh! Sound health in 8 steps

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Views 1,177,893

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."
00:18
And in a way, that's true, because everything is vibrating.
00:21
In fact, all of you as you sit here right now are vibrating.
00:24
Every part of your body is vibrating at different frequencies.
00:27
So you are, in fact, a chord --
00:30
each of you an individual chord.
00:32
One definition of health may be
00:34
that that chord is in complete harmony.
00:36
Your ears can't hear that chord;
00:38
they can actually hear amazing things. Your ears can hear 10 octaves.
00:40
Incidentally, we see just one octave.
00:43
Your ears are always on -- you have no ear lids.
00:46
They work even when you sleep.
00:48
The smallest sound you can perceive
00:50
moves your eardrum just four atomic diameters.
00:52
The loudest sound you can hear
00:55
is a trillion times more powerful than that.
00:57
Ears are made not for hearing,
00:59
but for listening.
01:01
Listening is an active skill,
01:03
whereas hearing is passive, listening is something that we have to work at --
01:05
it's a relationship with sound.
01:08
And yet it's a skill that none of us are taught.
01:10
For example, have you ever considered that there are listening positions,
01:12
places you can listen from?
01:15
Here are two of them.
01:17
Reductive listening is listening "for."
01:19
It reduces everything down to what's relevant
01:21
and it discards everything that's not relevant.
01:24
Men typically listen reductively.
01:26
So he's saying, "I've got this problem."
01:28
He's saying, "Here's your solution. Thanks very much. Next."
01:30
That's the way we talk, right guys?
01:32
Expansive listening, on the other hand,
01:34
is listening "with," not listening "for."
01:36
It's got no destination in mind --
01:38
it's just enjoying the journey.
01:40
Women typically listen expansively.
01:42
If you look at these two, eye contact, facing each other,
01:44
possibly both talking at the same time.
01:46
(Laughter)
01:48
Men, if you get nothing else out of this talk,
01:51
practice expansive listening,
01:53
and you can transform your relationships.
01:55
The trouble with listening is that so much of what we hear
01:57
is noise, surrounding us all the time.
02:00
Noise like this, according to the European Union,
02:03
is reducing the health and the quality of life
02:06
of 25 percent
02:08
of the population of Europe.
02:10
Two percent of the population of Europe --
02:12
that's 16 million people --
02:14
are having their sleep devastated
02:16
by noise like that.
02:18
Noise kills
02:20
200,000 people a year in Europe.
02:22
It's a really big problem.
02:24
Now, when you were little, if you had noise and you didn't want to hear it,
02:26
you'd stick your fingers in your ears and hum.
02:28
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
02:35
is it brings three really big health issues.
02:37
The first really big health issue is a word that Murray Schafer coined:
02:40
"schizophonia."
02:43
It's a dislocation
02:45
between what you see and what you hear.
02:47
So, we're inviting into our lives
02:49
the voices of people who are not present with us.
02:51
I think there's something deeply unhealthy
02:54
about living all the time in schizophonia.
02:56
The second problem that comes with headphone abuse
02:58
is compression.
03:00
We squash music to fit it into our pocket
03:02
and there is a cost attached to this.
03:04
Listen to this -- this is an uncompressed piece of music.
03:06
(Music)
03:09
And now the same piece of music with 98 percent of the data removed.
03:15
(Music)
03:18
I do hope that some of you at least
03:22
can hear the difference between those two.
03:24
There is a cost of compression.
03:26
It makes you tired and irritable to have to make up all of that data.
03:28
You're having to imagine it.
03:30
It's not good for you in the long run.
03:32
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,
03:39
but really worryingly,
03:42
16 percent --
03:44
roughly one in six -- of American teenagers
03:46
suffer from noise-induced hearing disorder
03:48
as a result of headphone abuse.
03:50
One study at an American university
03:53
found that 61 percent of college freshmen
03:55
had damaged hearing
03:58
as a result of headphone abuse.
04:00
We may be raising an entire generation of deaf people.
04:02
Now that's a really serious problem.
04:05
I'll give you three quick tips to protect your ears
04:07
and pass these on to your children, please.
04:09
Professional hearing protectors are great;
04:11
I use some all the time.
04:13
If you're going to use headphones, buy the best ones you can afford
04:15
because quality means you don't have to have it so loud.
04:18
If you can't hear somebody talking to you in a loud voice,
04:20
it's too loud.
04:22
And thirdly, if you're in bad sound,
04:24
it's fine to put your fingers in your ears or just move away from it.
04:26
Protect your ears in that way.
04:28
Let's move away from bad sound and look at some friends that I urge you to seek out.
04:30
WWB:
04:33
Wind, water, birds --
04:35
stochastic natural sounds
04:38
composed of lots of individual random events,
04:40
all of it very healthy,
04:43
all of it sound that we evolved to over the years.
04:45
Seek those sounds out; they're good for you and so it this.
04:47
Silence is beautiful.
04:53
The Elizabethans described language
04:55
as decorated silence.
04:57
I urge you to move away from silence with intention
04:59
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.
05:08
If you can't do it yourself, get a professional to do it for you.
05:10
Sound design is the future,
05:13
and I think it's the way we're going to change the way the world sounds.
05:15
I'm going to just run quickly through eight modalities,
05:18
eight ways sound can improve health.
05:20
First, ultrasound: we're very familiar with it from physical therapy;
05:23
it's also now being used to treat cancer.
05:26
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.
05:34
It's been around for thousands of years.
05:36
I do urge you to explore this.
05:38
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,
05:44
if it's music that's made with good intention,
05:47
made with love, generally.
05:49
Devotional music, good -- Mozart, good.
05:51
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
05:57
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,
06:13
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;
06:25
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.
06:38
And let's start to speak up
06:40
when people are assailing us
06:42
with the noise that I played you early on.
06:44
So I'm going to leave you with seven things you can do right now
06:46
to improve your health with sound.
06:49
My vision is of a world that sounds beautiful
06:51
and if we all start doing these things,
06:54
we will take a very big step in that direction.
06:56
So I urge you to take that path.
06:58
I'm leaving you with a little more birdsong, which is very good for you.
07:01
I wish you sound health.
07:03
(Applause)
07:05

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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