White Noise: Using Elf to Figure out White Noise

What is white noise?

I can’t tell you how many people use the term but don’t what it really means or why it does what it does.  That’s not to be mean, just an observation based on experience.  From friends to movies to online references, people talk about white noise, but it seems few are accurate in their references to it.  Case in point, our annual watching of Elf surfaced a scene I had never noticed before with the “angry elf.”  Okay, let’s be honest- it’s hard to forget the angry elf scene.  However, I think few of us notice the reference to white noise.   Remember it?

Most don’t.  Don’t feel bad.  here’s the scoop: the children’s book writer/angry elf says not to write about farm animals because there were so many other stories like that on the market.  He likened them to “white noise.”  Hmmm….quick question: is this an accurate comparison point?

It may be helpful to review what white noise actually is.  White noise is a type of noise that is produced by combining sounds of all different frequencies together. The purpose is to create a masking sound to drown out unwanted noises.  As How Stuff Works explains it:

Let’s say two people are talking at the same time. Your brain can normally “pick out” one of the two voices and actually listen to it and understand it. If three people are talking simultaneously, your brain can probably still pick out one voice. However, if 1,000 people are talking simultaneously, there is no way that your brain can pick out one voice. It turns out that 1,000 people talking together sounds a lot like white noise. So when you turn on a fan to create white noise, you are essentially creating a source of 1,000 voices. The voice next-door makes it 1,001 voices, and your brain can’t pick it out any more.

So, back to our Elf reference…is writing a story about animals among many other stories of animals like white noise?  Yes and no.

  • Yes.  Like white noise is a combination of sound and is still sound, so is an animal story among other animal stories.
  • No.  White noise is meant to overcome unwanted noise.  So, an animal story among other animal stories just blends in- it doe snot cover or overcome anything.

All that to say white noise is an oft-misused term, or at the very least an uninformed one.