Over half of the global population now lives in urban areas, where peace and quiet is a rarity.  From roadworks to passing traffic to the hustle and bustle of busy streets, noise pollution is simply a part of city life.
But it’s more than an irritation – it can have a hugely detrimental effect on mental health and general quality of life. The leading cause of hearing loss isn’t ageing, but noise.  Offering to address this issue is Muzo – a gadget that promises to block out unwanted noise by creating a personal sound field.
Muzo is a noise-blocking gadget that can be stuck to any flat surface, like a window, to create a peaceful sound field, shielding the person within from outside noises. “With Muzo, you can turn every area into your own personal place,” reads its Indiegogo page. “The mood, the environment, the privacy – all of this is under your control now.” 
The device uses anti-vibration technology to block noise, sending vibrations into the surface it’s mounted on and transforming the whole thing into a large speaker membrane. Instead of transmitting noise itself, it generates dynamic sounds that can be controlled by smartphone. The user can pick from three modes – 'serenity' creates a silent environment, 'sleep' plays a customisable soundscape, and 'secret' creates a private ‘bubble’ of sound, masking users’ voices in a public place.
After raising more than $530,000 via a Kickstarter campaign in early 2016 – surpassing its initial goal of $100,000 – Muzo moved to Indiegogo to fund pre-orders, which are set to be delivered by April 2017.  Once on sale, the device will set people back $249, and manufacturer Celestial Tribe has already received over $1.3 million in pre-orders. 
Muzo uses anti-vibration technology to block noise, enabling users to control their environment
Celestial Tribe (2016) ©
There are plenty of tools that aim to help people get a more peaceful night’s sleep. Hush's smart earplugs, for instance, record noise and play the opposite sound waves in order to create true silence – and they’re effective too. “The Hush smart earplugs nearly sent me to sleep at CES,” reported one enthused reviewer. 
But finding quiet during the day is trickier given how intrusive noise pollution can be. “In a way that is analogous to second-hand smoke, second-hand noise is an unwanted airborne pollutant produced by others,” write Lisa Goines and Louis Hagler in a study published in the Southern Medical Journal. “It’s imposed on us without our consent, often against our wills, and at times, places, and volumes over which we have no control.”  It’s no doubt contributed to the ubiquity of headphones – a market that’s worth $11.2 billion in the US, with 41% of Americans using them. 
Noise causes a stress response. You hear a loud sound, and a stress cascade begins – adrenalin is released, blood vessels constrict, muscles tense, and blood pressure risesMeg Selig, author and counsellor
Aside from the fact that background noise is unwanted, it’s also been proven to be bad for our health – both physical and mental. “Noise causes a stress response,” writes author and counsellor Meg Selig. “You hear a loud sound, and a stress cascade begins – adrenalin is released, blood vessels constrict, muscles tense, and blood pressure rises. [It’s also] associated with increased aggression, decreased helpful behaviour, reduced motivation and task performance, and even impaired cognitive development in children.” 
Of course, not everyone wants peace and quiet. While it’s proven that older people prefer quiet because it becomes harder for them to filter out distractions, studies prove that certain personality types – like people who are more neurotic – can actually find the busyness of the city to be calming, rather than anxiety-inducing.  Ultimately, what Muzo provides people is full control over their environment, and that’s highly valuable when it comes to one’s personal space.
Muzo truly makes spaces smarter
ThoroughlyReviewed, Creative Commons (2016) ©
Insights and opportunities
If Muzo works as well as promised, it will be music to the ears of those who seek silence. Because while specific functions will appeal to specific needs – for example, the ‘secret’ mode will no doubt excite the 95% of workers who feel privacy is important to them – all three settings will be desirable in a social context where the average person is distracted 47% of the time. 
Mindfulness has entered the mainstream, transitioning from the preserve of new age hippies to a logical way to maximise productivity and wellbeing – and technology has a place in achieving these goals. With 79% of Americans keeping their devices on them for 22 hours a day, tech has formerly been considered part of the problem – just another distraction.  Now, devices like Muzo are making it part of the solution. It’s also why Apple introduced ‘Night Mode’ on iOS 9.3, intended to minimise the negative effects of screen time before bed.
Noise reduction seems to be a major preoccupation in Scandinavian interiors these days. Which is hardly surprising since the wooden floors and raw surfaces that are synonymous with Scandinavian design don't absorb sound very wellMarcus Fairs, editor-in-chief of Dezeen
Of course, there are other ways of shutting out noise. While fountains have long been used in public spaces to create a healthier sound balance – leading people to perceive the space as quieter than it actually is – noise-reduction was a key theme at the 2016 Stockholm Furniture Fair, which saw sound-absorbing wall panels and wall-mounted ‘phone booths’, among other acoustically-led designs.  "Noise reduction seems to be a major preoccupation in Scandinavian interiors these days," says Marcus Fairs, editor-in-chief of Dezeen, who was one of the jurors at the event. “Which is hardly surprising since the wooden floors and raw surfaces that are synonymous with Scandinavian design don't absorb sound very well.” 
Whether it’s creating serene silence at work, at home or in a public space, Muzo is also heralding a new era, broadly speaking, for the smart home. It’s formerly been about upgrading the kettle, the fridge or lighting with the aid of technology. “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses,” said Henry Ford, reflecting on the invention of the car. In the same sense, instead of simply upgrading the home, Muzo takes things a step further, with the intention of making physical spaces truly smarter.
Lore Oxford is Canvas8's deputy editor. She previously ran her own science and technology publication and was a columnist for Dazed and Confused. When she’s not busy analysing human behaviour, she can be found defending anything from selfie culture to the Kardashians from contemporary culture snobs.
Mindful Moments: People are trying to focus on one thing at a time
‘More than half of world's population now living in urban areas, UN survey finds’
‘What did you say?! How noise pollution is harming you’Psychology Today
‘Muzo – state of the art vibration monitoring sys’
‘Muzo – state of the art vibration monitoring system’
‘The Hush smart earplugs nearly sent me to sleep at CES’
‘Just how bad is noise pollution for our health?’
‘Headphones are changing the music we listen to’
'Older people prefer peace and quiet 'because they cannot filter out distractions''The Telegraph
‘Parks aren't the mindfulness space for everyone’
‘The backlash against open-plan offices begins’
‘Wandering mind not a happy mind’Harvard Gazette
‘Noise reduction has become a ‘major preoccupation’ in Scandinavian interiors’