My friend Chris wrote a post a while back about leaving his apartment in Tokyo one day without his iPod, and the aural assault he experienced as a result.
It got me to thinking about the public spaces we all interact with every day, and how many of us, since the advent of the mp3 player, or perhaps even the walkman, don't rely on those spaces we utilize to provide any measure of privacy, solitude, or thinking space. If we want those things on the street, on the bus, or at the airport, in go the earbuds. At the same time, the advent of the public (and loud) cell-phone conversation has made those public spaces noisier, as Chris notes. There is another element- has our reliance on our own personal privacy generators made us a less polite society? Do we shout on our phones because we expect others to supply their own white noise?
Personally, I'd like to see public spaces that provided a little bit of sanctuary. The arm-rest on a bus or train seat, the occasional secluded park or street bench, the noise-reducing tree here or there.But those things are harder to clean, to maintain, to keep secure. How do we strike a balance?