I used to hear the term white noise ans think of static, of some unwanted noise humming and buzzing around my ears, like an annoying pest that just won’t go away. I would connote the too-loud TV my grandparents played as I tried to do something else, anything else. I would think of the symphony, or rather disharmony, of my 3 children all talking to or crying at me simultaneously…essentially, I would think of auditory overload. It was certainly not a happy connotation in that is obviously held so many pejorative feelings for me. I clearly am one who is sensitive to noise, which ironically makes me a great candidate for white noise.
It behooves us to take a step back and ask a few questions…what is white noise? Why on earth would I want to add noise to my life? Who actually uses it on purpose and in what format?
What is White Noise?
In its broadest sense, white noise is like white color. Just as white color is made up of every color in the spectrum, so white noise is made up of thousands of frequencies, all in equal amounts. This is why white noise is considered “unstructured sound.” Structured sound – voices, music – communicates information using specific frequencies. Because unstructured sound communicates nothing, our minds quickly tune it out.
Because it’s unstructured sound, it makes it much more difficult for our minds to discern individual words and other structured sounds. To put it another way, white noise “fills in” the sound spectrum.
Why Use White Noise?
It’s one of those funny counter-intuitive things: noise combats noise. It’s not as if they compete and one emerges victoriously- rather, the very nature of white noise makes it superior before the competition even begins. As stated above, white noise is unstructured, and it is this unstructured sound that helps our brains tune out other sound. Instead of focusing on song lyrics or nearby conversations, our minds ignore that sound and are more able to focus on other tasks. This is helpful when working among a group of people, such as in a row of cubicles, or even when trying to fall asleep. Even more important, though, this ability to mask other sounds is crucial for facilities needing privacy, such as a doctor’s office, or confidentiality, such as a government or military building.
How Do You Use White Noise?
White noise comes in a variety of applications, dependent upon your needs. As I am a work from home mom, I tend toward phone apps, free generators, and portable sound machines. However, the corporate world needs a larger version.
- White Noise app on your phone. Many phones, such as iPhones, come with white noise apps that are ideal for being on the road.
- White Noise Generator. This free white noise generator gives you a feel and sense of white noise and nature sounds. It’s ideal for desktop use and it customizable.
- White Noise Machine, aka Sound Machine. Sound machines can be used for individuals at home or in the office. They produce a myriad of white noise options, are adjustable, and offer a host of features, such as back-lit clocks, alarms, and even jet lag reduction.
- Sound Masking Systems. Systems are designed for multiple users, say in an open office, a waiting room, or any structure that houses more than 1 or 2 workers. Speakers are placed within the ceiling tiles and emit low-level white noise to serve as background sound to reduce distractions in an office or achieve speech privacy.
White noise is a resource that can be used for any number of users in any environment that needs speech privacy.