The Sound of Silence

Plus a pizza-eating groundhog

Emily Anthes

With roughly half the world’s population under stay-at-home orders, many cities have undergone sudden and radical transformations. Traffic has disappeared. Pollution has plummeted. And public spaces, typically thrumming with human activity, have gone quiet.

You can hear these changes for yourself, thanks to Matt Mikkelson, a “sound recordist” who enlisted some of his colleagues to collect recordings of cities gone silent. Here are a few:

But day-to-day noise pollution is just one way that we humans have utterly altered the planet’s soundscapes. Climate change is also beginning to alter the way the world sounds, a phenomenon I wrote about in The New York Times last week. As I explained:

Climate change will silence some species and nudge others into new habits and habitats, changing when and where they sing, squeak, whistle, bellow or bleat. (In New York, several species of frogs now begin croaking nearly two weeks earlier in the spring than they did a century ago.) It will also alter the sounds that animals produce, as well as how such vocalizations travel.

These shifts could make it more difficult for wild creatures to attract mates, avoid predators and stay oriented, as well as force them to expend more energy to make themselves heard. They are also an audible symptom of ecosystems that are unwell Dr. Krause said: “When a habitat is under stress, or it’s been transformed by human endeavor in some manner and it’s not healthy, it shows in its voice.”

I highly recommend hopping over to the full story, which includes great illustrations, as well as recordings of snapping shrimp, croaking frogs, singing whales, and more.

Indoor Ephemera

  • Architecture after the pandemic: “Is the open-plan office dead? Can skyscrapers survive? Will our phones control everything from the lights to ordering coffee?”

  • Infectious disease has already shaped the design of our buildings and cities.

  • How do you build a 2000-bed temporary hospital? An interview with the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

  • In Singapore, tape has become a temporary architectural element, helping to enforce social distancing.

  • The Pandemic Has Made a Mockery of Minimalism: Smaller, slower, fewer, isolated—the values of virus containment look eerily like modern luxury aesthetics.”

  • Air currents may explain why some diners at a restaurant in China—but not others—contracted the coronavirus.

  • This is fascinating: How museums are planning to tell the story of Covid-19.

  • I’ve mentioned jails a lot in this newsletter, but psychiatric hospitals are another environment that could be especially susceptible to coronavirus. And design is part of the reason why: “The coronavirus, and the public-health measures undertaken to slow its spread, is uniquely hostile to psychiatric care. An ordinary hospital unit is a lonely place: patients are generally in bed, in their rooms, physically distant from one another. By contrast, the prevention of solitude is built into the architecture of psych units, and enshrined in the laws and regulations that govern them. Psychiatric units are often designed to facilitate communication and group activities; now, however, they seem as if they were designed to spread the virus. Unlike in other hospital units, patients do not spend their days in their rooms: they are expected to attend therapy, play games, watch television, go outside, and take their meals together with other patients.”

Bonus Interspecies Animal Content

Finally, my gift to you. (Click through for the video. Trust me—it’s worth it.)

Be the pizza groundhog you wish to see in the world,

Emily

The Great Indoors will be out in June! But you can pre-order it now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, IndieBound, Powells, or your local independent bookstore.

You can read more of my work at my website and follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads. (You can follow me on Facebook, too, I suppose, but I rarely post there.)