Out in the boonies, we at the DFC offices rarely encounter unwanted noise. With rare exception, we work to a near-uniform soundtrack of crickets, the soft lowing of cows (link: photo of the neighbours?), and the wind in the leaves of the many maple trees.
But it’s hard to deny that the world is getting louder. We’re all used to cars, airplanes, and the occasional restaurant by now. But we’re getting deeper into an era of new technologies, with sound- and hearing-related fallout that is largely uninvestigated.
The Atlantic has one such tale, in which an Arizona homeowner named Karthic Thallikar had his sanity nearly destroyed by an annoying low-decibel mystery hum that took over his neighbourhood, and penetrated even his bedroom walls.
The culprit? A data centre owned by CyrusOne — that is, a massive building that houses hundreds of corporate servers, which each power up every time a client checks their bank balance online, for example, or looks up vacation destinations. This generates heat, which compounds with the heat from all the other servers, and requires massive cooling units (called “chillers”) mounted on the side of the building. The sound of the chillers drilled into Thallikar’s ears, and they drove him to nearly sell his house.
“Servers, like humans, are happiest at temperatures between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and the chillers were crucial in keeping the heat-generating machines comfortably cool as they worked. In the fall of 2014, around the time Thallikar started noticing the whine, CyrusOne had had room for 16 chillers. Now it was getting ready to add eight more. […]
The city [had] essentially offered CyrusOne carte blanche to develop an area three times the size of Ellis Island into one of the nation’s largest data-storage complexes: 2 million square feet protected by biometric locks, steel-lined walls, bullet-resistant glass, and dual-action interlocking dry-pipe sprinkler systems. CyrusOne even has two of its own substations humming with enough energy (112 megawatts) to light up every home in Salt Lake City — or, more relevant to the matter at hand, to power several dozen 400- and 500-ton chillers.”
After a long fight, Thallikar and his neighbours were ultimately successful in getting CyrusOne to baffle the sound of their chillers with specialized nylon blankets. But Thallikar soon discovered a new whine in the neighbourhood — a different financial data centre, with its own phalanx of chillers. Welcome to the 21st century noise polluter, whose racket is directly tied to the tech in our lives! I say we need regulations against this new breed of invasive noise: We humans who live near these facilities can’t keep engaging in case-by-case struggles forever.