How it feels to be on the brink of a life passage, from youth to middle age to death.

The Noisy Lives of Young People

Even 40 years ago, folks complained about kids' "constant throb" of music

I love when an old piece of writing seems as if it could have been written yesterday, and could as easily be applied to today’s twenty-somethings as to the young Baby Boomers about whom it was intended. That’s why I was tickled to see this posted a few months ago on The Atlantic web site. Here’s the quote, by the writer George Steiner:

A large segment of mankind, between the ages of 13 and, say, 25, now lives immersed in this constant throb…. Activities such as reading, writing, private communication, learning, previously framed with silence, now take place in a field of strident vibrato.

Constant throb . . . strident vibrato . . . these are the complaints crabby old timers like me make when we sit next to kids on the subway whose iPods leak their insistent bass lines into our own heads, or when every restaurant we go into seems to be featuring some sort of horrid techno music thrumming in the background. But Steiner wrote these words in 1971. MORE THAN 40 YEARS AGO. The “youth culture” that had become the “sound culture” was mine.

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Steiner continued:

We have no real precedent to tell us how life-forms mature and are conducted at anywhere near the levels of organized noise which now cascade through the day and the lit night.

Now we have a clue. We baby boomers, the former twenty-somethings whose organized noise polluted “the day and the lit night” (what a lovely phrase), are now paying the price in our fifties and sixties with a higher rate of hearing loss than ever before. 

As for his fear that reading, writing, and learning would all be hampered by the constant bombardment — aren’t these the very things we fifty-somethings worry about now when we look at our kids with their earbuds and wonder what the world is coming to?

Robin Marantz Henig is a science journalist and co-author, with her daughter Samantha Henig, of Twentysomething: Why Do Young Adults Seem Stuck?


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