Our modern, technically advanced world is a wonderful thing. The internet, in particular, has transformed our lives beyond anything most people would have imagined ten to fifteen years ago. To think we didn’t even know what an iPhone was back in 2006 (just ten years ago) seems rather quaint when you look back.
Today, we take it completely for granted that most people carry smartphones in their pocket that are more powerful than all of NASA’s combined computing power in 1969. Crazy!
Clearly, the pace of technological advancement is remarkable, and there are countless benefits: a better-connected world; greater access to information; increased opportunities for business – few would argue against this, but what is it doing to our mental wellbeing?
To be honest, much of the research is rather anecdotal or inconclusive at present. Some experts praise the effects of tech on our brains. Others tout crippling effects on our attention span and creativity. Whichever side of the fence you sit, few would deny the benefits of unplugging from time-to-time, and it is here where I believe natural sounds – including birdsong – can have numerous benefits.
In open offices, we’re hit with a double whammy; not only are we glued to a screen for most of our day, but we’re also surrounded by constant noise and distraction, which many experts believe is highly detrimental to our productivity and wellbeing.
Sound and communication expert, Julian Treasure talks eloquently about the effect of sound on our minds from a four tier perspective in his excellent TED talk, including the physiological, psychological, cognitive, and behavioral impacts. According to Treasure, you are “one-third as productive in open-plan offices as in quiet rooms.” He goes on to recommend carrying headphones with you to play soothing sounds like birdsong, which he claims, “boosts your productivity up to triple of what it would be.”
Having tried birdsong myself in an open office environment, I can personally vouch for the productivity and mindset benefits. When I have tight deadlines I regularly use a combination of sounds (including Birdsong and White Noise) to help boost creativity and reduce stress.
Why does birdsong boost cognitive function and reduce stress?
There are a number of reasons Birdsong is so effective:
The first is evolutionary. Most folks find birdsong reassuring because over thousands of years we’ve learned that when the birds are singing, our environment is safe. This alone is enough to reduce our blood pressure and allow us to think more clearly. I mean, really, how many people do you know who find birdsong distressing!? In our ‘constantly on’, wired modern world, making time to stay connected with nature is imperative. Julian Treasure recommends a prescription of at least five minutes a day. When you consider that the average person in the US spends 7.4 hours every day in front of screens, it’s easy to see how our disconnect with the natural world can play havoc with our mental well-being.
The second reason birdsong is so powerful is through lack of repetition; there is no one sound or hook to focus in on like there is in pop music. Studies by Glyndwr University (among other participants) appears to back this hypothesis through many studies carried out on students to measure their productivity after eating, where most of us experience the “post-meal slump”.
The point about repetition, I believe, is of particular importance. I would suggest it’s one of the reasons minimalist instrumental music appears more effective than listening to pop music when we study. Birdsong is particularly compelling because it combines the lack of association and the reassurance of nature.
Try Birdsong for yourself
Whether it be the stress and strain of our modern world, or the simple need to unplug, increasing numbers of people are discovering the surprising benefits of Birdsong. Well, I say surprising, but is it really that obscure? Let’s take a sideways step for just a moment and consider the effect of fast food on our health. Generally speaking, most would agree that a diet rich in natural fruit and vegetables is good for us. The more we tamper with our food as humans, the less healthy it tends to be – processed fast food is a perfect example.
I’m certainly not suggesting you must go vegan and abstain from technology to stay healthy, but I would suggest, like our diets – moderation is key. A balance of technology – with all the benefits it delivers to the human race – combined with the power of nature is essential to harnessing the true power of technology.
As part of our Sound as Medicine project, you can download 1 hour of birdsong to use as you please for just $1.99. Give it a go; there’s no maximum dose, and it might prove to be just what the doctor ordered.