I like this chair better than the assumptions behind it

Freyja Sewell’s 'Hush’ chair, a sound-deadening felt enclosure that opens like a flower, or closes around the sitter like a womb.

Freyja Sewell’s 'Hush’ chair, a sound-deadening felt enclosure that opens like a flower, or closes around the sitter like a womb.

Freyja Sewell’s chair is a lovely piece of design—I wouldn’t mind owning one, in fact, and it would be useful in my somewhat noisy West End neighbourhood in Vancouver.

But follow that link, and notice the accompanying text. It goes without saying, apparently, that you need a sound-deadening armchair to muffle your roommate’s noise, rather than a roommate with enough courtesy not to make noise in the first place. This is a large assumption. People have been living in dense city neighbourhoods for centuries, and in many cultures evolved habits of quiet and courtesy. The extreme case is probably Japan, surely not unrelated to building literally paper-thin partition walls.

I see this chair as an example of our collective bias toward solving problems at the level of the tool (generally a manufactured product) rather than altering the technique, the task, or the intent. In this case, consider the task to be accomplished: to deaden the sounds others make in a shared environment. That task doesn’t actually have to exist—you could just expect people to keep quiet.

That has its own trade-offs, of course, but it’s an option widely ignored. We have a thousand vendors eager to sell us noise-cancelling headphones, earplugs, sound-isolating earbuds for our iPhones—and no thought, apparently, that we could change behaviour instead, for free. The very simple reason, I think, is that you can make a lot of money selling silence, and none teaching consideration. You can make money selling an object, but not an attitude. That cultural and economic bias, I think, is behind our failure to solve many problems much bigger than noisy roommates.

Much more, later.

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