“Ladies and gentlemen, this is an important message from the New York City Police Department.” We know the words. We hear them every day. There’s something about keeping your belongings safe, checking yourself and saying something if you see something. Then there are others — about unlawful sexual conduct, riding on the outside of train cars, panhandling, etc. At this point, veteran subway riders simply sigh when the same prerecording announcements we’ve been hearing for five years starts to play. We’re suffering from noise overkill.
Now, a recent study suggests that not only are we annoyed by these announcements, but we generally just flat-out ignore them. A professor of psychology from the U.K. says prerecorded announcements create complacency as they become a part of life’s background noises. “People habituate to any kind of stimulus and eventually filter it out and the same thing happens with warnings and announcements,” Judy Edworthy said. “It is rather like crying wolf – people get warning fatigue. It means people could actually be at more risk of what they are being warned about.”
As one U.K.-based reporter found, 27 prerecorded messages played at one rail station within the span of 30 minutes, and researchers are blaming the fear companies have that they will be “accused of failing to alert customers to potential dangers.” In New York, the epidemic isn’t as bad as the one described in The Telegraph, but sometimes, all we want is a little bit of quiet. We’ll say something if we see something. Now stop berating us.