The basic need of quite in one's life can't be underrated. Research shows that being around noise pollution sources can cause serious health issues. That is why cities have guidelines pertaining specifically to the issue of noise.
What is interesting to me as a designer is creating quite zones, and moments with-in a space. Best example I had encountered of coming in and out of silence is in a swimming meet. I often ask my daughter, do you hear us cheer? With a big smile over her face she says, "no it is so quite in the water it's the best thing". The silence of the water keeps her safe from the competition's stress.
Many commercial places make the mistake of cranking up the volume, to a point of complete disorientation, it seems these are the places, that are starting to see cuts in revenues. Noisy restaurants may seem appealing when you walk in, but the charm of the loud music or boomy chatter wares you down, and asking for the check seems like the right exit move. Even hectic cities take a toll on people. I know that I love to visit New-York city, but I've learned I also like to say goodbye.
The basic way sound works is by traveling through some sort of medium like solid, liquid or gas, by vibrating the molecules. The density of the medium (spacing of the molecules), will determine how fast the sound will travel through it. The denser the medium, the faster sound will travel through it. So hard table tops, combined with hard flooring surfaces and bare walls - make for a very boomy and loud environment.
There are ways to mitigate some of the noise disruptions. I've seen people wear noise reduction headphones on airplanes, and open office spaces. There are special rooms where one can leave the open space to take on a phone call in a more private setting. Carpets and their padding also help. Architecturally walls can be built with more sound proofing - mainly by adding air of sorts. Anything that will help keep the house warm or cold, will also help with sound proofing i.e. foam insulation, double paned windows. In some restaurants I have seen foam padding under the table and seats (not a pretty sight). Some public places even go to the extreme and use a 'high-pitch' device to keep younger people from loitering and making noise around the area.
But I have to admit these solutions are usually not visually pleasing. Yes we can put more and more rugs or carpets, but what if there are allergies, or we just like the look of hardwood floors? Just googling the words 'sound proofing' brings up pretty basic solutions, some are more pleasing to the eye, some less. I have even once found there is a whole world of sound proofing art work (basically felt cut into landscapes).
Any of these things can help, but I also think that as our living areas get more condense, there should be a behavioral change in our environments. I don't need to walk into a store where the music is cranked up, or a bar where the hockey game is put on so loud I can no longer sit in there. I want to enjoy looking a things in a store without having the urge to bolt, I want to enjoy my dinner with a side of the hockey game not IT being the event. I really want as Simon and Garfunkel so aptly sing is to enjoy The Sound of Silence.