The Lombard Effect
is named not after the Italian region but for Étienne Lombard, the French scientist who noted how beings of all kinds adjust their communication, both volume and content, to the ambient noise in their environs.
Birds in San Francisco began to adapt their singing to the reduced noise from traffic during the pandemic. Aspects of the beauty and originality of the birds’ singing were sacrificed as a result of emergency, which only goes to show that people aren’t the only beings who must adjust. There are moments in which we must sacrifice nuance to make enough noise just to be acknowledged, especially when we are not seen or heard, or when others shape a narrative that evades a larger truth. One case in point: the force we call Appalachia and the even wider rural community. In the current moment, some segments of contemporary society are labeled and then cornered, designated not as players but as mere receivers of taxpayer largesse, forced to chase amplification on others’ terms to participate in the discourse that, by rights, should be available to them free and clear.
Fortunately, humans also have the ability to layer thought over instinct, which is the essence of General George Marshall’s counsel in 1953. As we embrace reality, we most certainly have the capacity to lead, follow or get out of the way – by thinking, listening, sharing and altering course – and volume – when the situation calls for it.