How can a color be noisy? Well, believe me it can. We experienced this innovation at the office where I worked several years ago.
Thanks to a new open office plan at our office, we had something new to gripe about besides each other. You see, experts discovered that with an open office plan, you could not only see each other, you could also hear each other.
Experts came up with a way to overcome this little distraction. It was called “white noise.” We were not exactly sure where it was coming from. For all we knew space aliens may have brought it from another planet. It certainly sounded like something from out of this world.
All day long we were subjected to a whistling sound in the background that blured out any other noise. No longer could we hear our neighbor chattering on the phone, clicking the keyboard, or complaining about too much work.
Funny, most of us had never even heard of white noise and suddenly we had it. It came with modernization, like manna from heaven. We spent our time around the water cooler speculating on what the white noise sounded like. “It sounds like an air blower at high speed,” said one person. “I think it is like being on an airplane,” sald another. “It sounds like what you hear in a seashell when you listen for the sound of the ocean,” said someone else. Of course, the bottom line was that it sounded like… well… white noise.
It seems people complain more if the sound is loud, so it started out low and day by day the volume increased until it reached the highest level. The theory was that if the increase in volume is gradual enough, no one will notice. It is similar to the old frog story. If you put a frog in water and gradually increase the temperature, you can bring it to boiling without killing the frog. I don’t think that is true, but I did know that we were boiling in white noise.
When people talked to me, I could see their lips moving, but I ccould not hear what they were saying. “Huh?” It was like working in a ticket office where you are separated from the rest of the world by an invisible pane of glass, or in a gas station in a bad neighborhood with bullet-proof glass to keep the bad guys out.
White noise is not supposed to be harmful in any way. It is supposed to reduce stress and help workers avoid distractions and be more productive. We suspected that it might be a sinister plot to control our brains and were considering getting tin-foil hats to keep the white noise waves from controlling us.
Noise is not considered noise pollution until it reaches a certain level where noise is more than merely annoying and actually harmful to your health, like the noise from airplane engines, jack hammers, fireworks, or your kids playing rock music. The idea is that it should be loud enough to “mask” other sounds without being loud enough to create a noise distraction of its own.
When you search for information on the internet, most of the results are about how to make white noise, not how to deal with it. Some people use it in the nursery to help fussy babies sleep and it actually works. Now I know why I was suddenly so sleepy. We were supposed to be more productive, but instead we were yawning and finding it difficult to stay awake in our glass cocoons with the soothing sound surrounding us.
As I understand it, an open office plan is intended to improve communication. White noise is intended to mask the excessive noise from our improved communication. But, everyone just kicked it up a notch to be heard over the white noise. It seemed self-defeating to me, but obviously I was out of touch with modernization.
As far as I’m concerned, though, the best color of noise is still the old-fashioned sound of silence.
Copyright 2013 Sheila Moss