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So, my story, set in America in 1998, has werewolves. I'm not quite sure how good their hearing is going to be, but bare minimum, even when in human form, they can hear as well as a real-life wolf can. Which is... a lot. Somewhere between 6-10 miles outdoors depending on the level of forestation. And lately, I've been thinking a lot about the impact that would have on their culture. If a bunch of people living in the vicinity of each other have hearing way beyond that of normal humans, That would have a serious impact on privacy, and more importantly, their cultural attitudes about it. I've been heavily debating whether they'd take great pains to protect their privacy, or go in the other direction and conclude that secrecy is useless given how much more aware of their surroundings they are than any human can be. But before I get too deep into that, I think I need to double-check exactly how difficult privacy would be to achieve.

Soundproofing, of course, is a thing, but it's almost always in the context of humans, and keeping them from hearing something too loudly or from hearing something at all. There's really not that much information I can find about keeping any animals with hearing stronger than a human's from being able to hear things.

What would it take, if indeed it is even possible, to soundproof a room using 1998's technology thoroughly enough that no one outside of it could hear what was happening inside, even if they had the ears of a wolf?

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    $\begingroup$ This is a very difficult question to answer. There are quite a few factors.. is the wolf in the building ? Are there windows or doors ? what noise is your wolf not supposed to hear ? someone present ? voices ? loud voices ? how thick are the wands of this room.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Apr 16 at 17:04
  • $\begingroup$ Hearing range "somewhere between 6-10 miles" is meaningless. I can hear a rock concert 10 miles away easy. My dog cannot hear the flutter of a butterfly's wings even 1 mile away. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Apr 17 at 14:03

4 Answers 4

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Before we get into the tech of soundproofing, let's address the cultural question, because that may inform our soundproofing goals.

Our population contains two distinct groups: humans, who have normal hearing, and werewolves, who have wolf-like hearing. These groups will have very different experiences, and so their cultures will have different trajectories.

Humans will not change their soundproofing habits, because they will be unaware of the fact that there are individuals in the community who can suddenly hear everything as though they're using audio surveillance.

Werewolves will not primarily experience this as a problem of "privacy," because their day-to-day experience will not centrally be about being observed by others, but of suddenly being able to observe all others. This maybe sounds like a cool benefit, but anyone who has lived in an apartment building can tell you that being forced to listen to the everyday noises of your neighbors grows obnoxious very quickly. It would only be enjoyable to a person who is nosy to the point of derangement.

So, what will happen is that each werewolf will very quickly decide that she must do something to silence the ceaseless clamor of her neighbors, or go mad. And as satisfying as it might be to simply murder the problem, she will also have to deal with traffic sounds, which will resist a "bloody solution."

Soundproofing tech has been around for a long time. There's interesting kinds of foam, and tiles, and fiberglass insulation, most of which can be done by a competent DIYer who is legally permitted to modify their residence. There's also a whole sub-discipline in architecture dedicated to acoustic design, but this is only relevant if you are extremely wealth and constructing a home (and my experience is that it's usually concerned with amplification, for performance venues and such).

But now we know that each werewolf's primary goal will be to dampen the noises coming from their neighbors, rather than to contain noises made by themselves. We also know that secrecy is of paramount importance to werewolves, because humans generally hunt and kill werewolves as dangerous predators, so each werewolf will be reluctant to do anything that might call attention to themselves such as ordering a pallet of foam soundproofing panels or ripping up all their drywall.

The ideal solution is the earplug:

  • small and inconspicuous, can be concealed on one's person
  • usually inexpensive
  • reusable
  • can be used anywhere, not just in the home
  • can be removed at any time when super-hearing is desired
  • not cause for suspicion if discovered by humans or authorities

Earplugs have been around for a very long time. Apparently they were patented 140 years ago, in 1884 1, but even the ancient Greeks knew about plugging one's ears to stop noise (it is mentioned in The Odyssey, written nearly three millennia ago).

If you've worn disposable earplugs, you know they make everything sound muffled. Your werewolves can do better: a special variety of "Musicians Earplugs" was invented in 1988 which dampens sounds while maintaining clarity. These need to be custom-fit to the wearer's ears, and a pair costs about \$350 today; I'd guess they probably ran closer to $800 back in 1998. A cheaper version came out in 1990, so that could be a more affordable option.

Here is how I think things will play out:

  1. each werewolf will independently come to the conclusion they need to get earplugs or go insane; once they have good earplugs, they'll usually be so satisfied that they will stop looking for more extreme solutions
  2. as the population of werewolves grows and members learn to identify each other, they will start to compare notes about the noise problem and their solutions
  3. info about the best quality earplugs will become socialized among the group
  4. many of these werewolves will develop an amateur interest in what we humans call "hearing protection"
  5. any town with more than a few werewolves will develop a small business that sells unusually good earplugs and other home soundproofing solutions, which will be operated by one or more werewolves; it will also have free, quality literature about hearing loss, state-of-the-art hearing protection, and soundproofing
  6. at first there will be a slight increase in violent crime near the "ear shop," after which it will become one of the safest neighborhoods in town once the owner puts out the word that anyone becomes persona non grata if they draw attention by getting violent near the store

The werewolves who run the shop will be some of the most politically powerful members of the local werewolf community, because they will know the identifies of every local werewolf. They'll also be flush with profits.

Civilians who wander into the store are likely to pick up on an odd vibe, similar to walking into a mob-owned storefront (I did this once, I think, and it's a strange feeling). Local kids will definitely know about the store, and it will figure prominently in a lot of their rumors and spooky tales. Young people who grew up in town will be inexplicably very afraid to go into the store for any reason. Little kids who are in the area and need to urinate will rather pee their pants than go into this store to use the bathroom, and if their parents insist, the kid will unfailingly lose bladder control and wet themselves when their irritated parent reaches for the door handle; this will be such a frequent occurrence that local parents will gossip about it (before and after PTA meetings, for example).

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  • $\begingroup$ Great answer! I’m curious what would make small children that afraid, though. Is there anything they’d pick up on that adults wouldn’t, even if they hadn’t ever been there before? $\endgroup$
    – Davislor
    Apr 17 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ Kids not from the area will pick up on clues in staff behavior that there's a secret that all the staff know about but that their parents don't. (Kids are usually great observers of behavior, in part because they have no business of their own to transact, so nothing to do except observe.) They probably won't be scared, maybe just intrigued. Kids who move into the area will hear the spooky stories right away, certainly no later than the next Halloween. Any kid who hears the stories and then visits the shop will start to believe the worst. So: 1st visit = tossup; 2nd visit = guaranteed terror. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Apr 20 at 17:00
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Slight frame-challenge.

Area-exclusion technology has been long-used for pest control. Ultrasonic frequencies to deter pests, particularly mice and more recently children and youths from loitering in areas that they're not welcome - outside shops etc..

It's not perhaps necessary to drive the vulpines away altogether, but to take advantage of their super hearing and use it against them in a different way.

Adult humans effectively hearing up to 15-18 kHz or so, vulpine's hearing is believed by many naturalists to far exceed that of dogs in the frequency-range part:

Some researchers believe that the actual maximum frequency detected by wolves is actually much higher, perhaps up to 80 kHz

Proposal:

Voice scrambling techniques, which re-iterate the speech of the humans in a room, to just outside the room via speakers - plus an added ultrasonic "noise" component, could successfully mask all spoken words within the room equipped with these devices. It needn't be painfully loud so as to drive them away, but all they'd be able to discern is that there is a conversation going on, not the content (excepting perhaps urgency and pace of the speech) - easily enough to preserve confidentiality. Slave-devices can be attached to windows with suction cups.

Advantages: It's cheap and portable: a mic-scrambler-transmitter module and several slave modules can be carried easily in a small bag. It will work anywhere without having to equip the room/windows/doors with expensive shielding.

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Needle in a haystack:

FRAME CHALLENGE: Civilization is full of vast amounts of cacophony. The noise is insane. While a wolf may be able to hear for miles, the average werewolf living in an urban setting will have their hearing limited by the sheer number, volume, and variety of noises they are constantly barraged by. It would be like an eagle trying to see a mouse in a snowstorm. While sounds like wolf calls that they are especially sensitive to might ring through this mess, I doubt the routine noises of human life will be so easy to distinguish.

  • Werewolves may have better hearing in wolf form, since wolf hearing depends on wolf ears. Human ears are simply not mechanically going to do the same job. So while a werewolf may have better than human hearing as a man, it will be quite a bit less.
  • The awareness of noises may depend on the form the werewolf is in. Traditionally, werewolves are portrayed as more animal and instinctive in wolf and were forms, often uncontrolled. What if they also can't understand human speech the same way since their transformed brains lack a clear sense of language? They may recognize language like dogs do - knowing specific voices, tones, and commands, but lacking a deep understanding of speech.

Combined, these two factors would mean that human-form werewolves would be unable to hear like wolves, while wolf-form werewolves would be unable to understand speech.

The same logic applies to other wolf senses. Cities may simply STINK to a wolf, and they would be overwhelmed by the range of smells. They would need to learn to ignore vast amounts of data, while still retaining the ability to hone in on a specific smell as needed. The human versions would be less capable, while the wolf versions would have different mental priorities.

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    $\begingroup$ My dog can hear me and obey commands from another floor in a very crowded apartment building, even when we can't hear her. I think a werewolf could hear their neighbours from afar really well. $\endgroup$ Apr 16 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw Yes, but is your dog in dog form or human form? Of course, most dogs think they're human and we just can't hear... $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Apr 17 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ We train dogs to be able to pick out specific scents in cacophonies. I see no reason why [were]wolves wouldn't be able to do the same. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    May 5 at 19:23
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Not soundproof per se, but the humans would likely have installed high-pitched ultrasonic speakers around the building. When a werewolf comes too close and trys to eavesdrop, they would feel intense pain while humans would not even hear it.

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