I recently spent a week in a small Victorian town. On my second day I went to the supermarket to get the week's groceries. As I climbed out of the car I fiddled with the Gordian knot of my earphones when I realised something – I didn't want to plug them in.
I normally wear earphones for a lot of the time that I'm out of the house. I listen to a lot of music, podcasts and audiobooks, and the time spent looking after the trivialities of life might be better used. I get through a lot of books this way.
The thing that stopped me was the quiet. There was some traffic noise, but birdsong was easily audible over it. People had loud conversations but they weren't obnoxious. A knackered old Datsun pulled up into the carpark, but it was an interesting spectacle rather than an annoyance. I looked around. No one else was wearing earphones either.
Without the constant drone of background noise I didn't feel compelled to armour myself against the world. And like an annoying ache, you often don't realise how much noise there is until it's gone. A less frantic place doesn't need insulation.
The US government maintains a list of places in America that are truly quiet – where no human-originated noise can be heard. They are rare, only a couple of dozen in the contiguous 48 states.
How much effort are we unconsciously putting into protecting ourselves from other people's activities? Living in a vast hive of people has its advantages, but we often can't see the down side.