The pandemic brought lockdown. The lockdown brought a different soundscape. In cities throughout the world regular sounds are absent and in some like San Francisco, one can hear birds. Stuart Fowkes a UK based artist has been mapping the sounds of cities since 2014. He’s trying to map sounds all over the world and noticed that one thing lockdown brought out were sounds like church bells which were no longer lost in other city sounds. They could now be more noticed. To Fowkes so many sounds have been lost to noise pollution. In fact the World Health Organization thinks of noise pollution as an environmental stressor and a public health risk. On an everyday level we may not be aware of how sounds affect us, but they do. The vibrations hit our senses as well as our bodies, and usually result in a reaction from not only our physical bodies, but also our emotional ones. Sound pollution is so much part of urban life that we forget to notice its impact. Traffic of course, delivery trucks, ambulances, other sirens, revving motors, blaring music.. each bearable by themselves perhaps, but when added to the others affect us in ways we forget to recognize much less acknowledge. It’s not hard to see that sound pollution does stress us and that stress on an ongoing basis can be a health risk. Fowkes now has more than 4000 recordings of sounds from 100 countries, and was planning to issue a report last March. When Covid 19 hit he began recording those sounds, or their absence, and incorporated those recordings into The Future Cities Project so that we will not only know what cities sounded like before the virus, but also now. Whatever Fowkes’ reasons for undertaking that project, how sound affects us is something we ought to think about. Some sounds can make us relax, and some interfere with what we feel and even more with our thought processes. And for those of us who are also sensitive to what is transcendent, being aware of sounds and their effects upon us is certainly a must.
Civvl is a startup for evictions. As a result of Covid many are behind on their rent and despite eviction moratoriums, some landlords are opting to evict their tenants, or may in future when the moratoriums are lifted. Violating these moratoriums can result in jail time and fines. When asked how they kept these evictions legal, Civvl did not answer. Meanwhile some property owners avail themselves of the option to call on a team of gig workers as process servers and eviction agents to evict their tenants, including people who will move out furniture. They’re called the Uber of evictions. And Civvl is not the only one, OnQuall does something similar. They say that at a time of high unemployment they provide jobs, even if it’s a gig. One such worker who needed the money to pay his own rent was seen crying as he moved out furniture of someone being thus evicted. Legally people are free to engage in such businesses, and should be. But if you believe as I do that a society needs to provide a moral compass, needs to provide a framework for more harmlessness, then like me you will have difficulty with these kind of businesses, and even more when these businesses look to be skirting the law. Making money out of someone’s suffering is wrong. Enabling someone to hurt another is wrong. Yes, landlords have the right to their rents, but they are not without remedies. They can, for example, through their property owners groups lobby local state and federal government for subsidies or other kinds of aids. In all cases, less rent will mean less income and will therefore be reflected in the amount of income tax they will have to pay. Few are the landlords who will be homeless as a result, which is not the case for some of those evicted. Of course landlords do have the option in some instances to simply do a good deed.
Digital ads on billboard that you may encounter as you drive can now spy on those who look at them. It’s not called this, it’s referred to as a radar, but spying is in essence what it is. It has to do with the technology that tracks your phone. You are driving and you look at an ad, and they know much about you through the data they collect. I don’t understand all of it, so I can’t tell you how they do that, but it is now possible. It is based and focused on the signals which are emitted from our devices, or I suppose whatever electronic systems such as GPS are in our cars. The problem, and to me and certain privacy advocates it certainly is a problem, is what is being done with the data that is collected. It’s all sort of new, and it’s all opaque. And I am not sure that time will necessarily add to transparency. Clear Channel Outdoor has been using this technology in the US including Los Angeles for the last four years, and is now ready to use it in Europe. What I thought was important was that the article describing its US usage added the word, quietly when describing their practices. The problem is that private companies, the names of which are not all known, are using the information for their own profits and purposes. The technology is the same as that used in surveillance and privacy experts are concerned that a commercial surveillance network is being built and given that so many companies are involved, it makes the practice even scarier. Of course Clear Channel says this is to help advertisers better understand consumer behavior and advertising campaign effectiveness.
Whatever reasons all the business concerns may give, it is difficult to see how advertising that utilizes surveillance technology can be benign to consumers. I don’t know if consumers can manage to stop the practice, but I know that it is something we need to know more about.
Nextdoor for those of you who may not know is a web service organized by neighborhoods where one can ask for recommendation about plumbers or painters or post questions and grievances. A few days ago a woman posted that she came home to find 2 men rummaging through her trash, and what upset her was that they wore no masks. Somehow the post took flight. A man with a Hispanic surname (thus debunking many stereotypes one may have about Hispanics) said that trash picking was illegal, they were stealing from the county who would otherwise benefit from the sale of the recyclables. Someone else agreed. Then someone said the trash pickers were like environmentalists recycling what we threw away. Someone then posted it’s like the French revolution, Marie Antoinette wanted them hungry people to eat cake because they were hungry and had no bread; he explained, these are hard times, people are scrounging to survive. Someone then replied how she felt for those people. The person with the original post said I just wanted them to wear masks, so someone said, then maybe leave some masks out for them. Then a new person wrote they were criminals and another answered if it is illegal, do you want these people prosecuted? Is that how you want your tax dollars spent? It’s a very small fraction of the crimes occurring, that would be a misuse of scarce public resources, that person added. And many agreed.
Rare is the neighborhood who doesn’t have people rummage through the trash bins for recyclables, things they can reuse, or maybe resale somehow. I remember a documentary about a couple who rose at 4am to rummage through the trash, and that is how they made their living. What a hard job it is, what an unpleasant one, thus my respect for people who rummage through our trash. Yes, they usually don’t wear masks, they leave the bin’s lid open, they can have loud music, but they are to me a part of modern life, a benign one at that. What was striking to me about the Nextdoor postings, was how divided the exchanges were, how many people were willing to condemn the practice, and how many reacted with no compassion. But If I had to put a percentage to that portion, it would be 40%. The rest reacted and defended the original offenders. It all left me asking, does the incident represent the state of the nation these days, condemning people trying to survive and showing no compassion, versus those who strove to understand? And if it does, then compassion won! There’s hope. Let’s take heart!