Noise-canceling headphones: silence, we’re working!

It is astonishing to note that the much vaunted ideology of the open space like place of circulation of ideas in all directions ended up giving birth to its silent counter-speech: the noise-canceling headphones.

It’s not so much that open spaces have become super noisy, the decibel level there often being close to zero and starving human-to-human exchanges, it’s rather that our tolerance to noise (and to others) has diminished dramatically since. the days when workers toiled in deafening factories. Today, a coworker who laughs a little loudly is often likened to a guy out of control, almost a vociferous madman.

It’s not so much that open spaces have gotten super noisy, it’s rather that our tolerance for noise (and others) has dramatically diminished.

According to a study conducted by the FIFG in 2019, 59% of working people say they are bothered by noise and noise pollution in their workplace. Disturbed in the first place by the outside noise and the use of equipment (yes, this photocopier which has something of the steam locomotive), they are 13% to say they are annoyed by the telephone calls and 13% still by the conversations between colleagues. CQFD: in open space, we are asked to close it. Especially since, for 67% of the people questioned, this noise pollution in the professional context would have negative consequences on their health.

Hence this parade: re-implanting the noise-canceling headphones that were all the rage on construction sites in the heart of the carpeted world of the tertiary sector. Once you are equipped with it, you certainly no longer hear your colleagues, but you no longer hear your own noises. It happens then that you begin to thump like a deaf person on your keyboard, embracing, by a strange return of karma, the seismic fate of the jackhammer operator whose attachment you have just adopted.

As a side effect of your sudden impermeability to noise, this mess then generates a new epidemic of noise-canceling headphones.

Programmatic irony

As we can see, this mischievous object, like the air conditioner, carries with it a form of programmatic irony fueling the problem it is supposed to solve. A monstrous child of our desire for communication set up as an absolute, noise-canceling headphones are, as in ancient dramas, the fruit of a slightly too assertive will which would have ended up producing the opposite effect. As shown in a study published in 2018 by Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban devoted to open spaces, face-to-face interactions are experiencing, in these places initially thought of as agoras, a decrease of around 70%.

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