The Relevance of White Noise

To Interactive Telecommunications.

Luke Harms




White Noise is defined by physicists as random sound within prescribed volume and tonal parameters. The phrase has been slightly subverted by the popular culture and invested with a more esoteric meaning. White noise is the constant enviro-socio-cultural background of our lives.

The Novel White Noise by Don Dellilo deals heavily with the subject of death. It is no coincidence that death is life's fundamental background. Ultimately there is no better way to distinguish life, then to consider it in the larger term: life and death. Yet, considering life within the parameter death, one observes that the texture and substance (conetnt) of life’s span becomes more important then its boundary death.

Content of the Novel, content of the background noise and especially life itself, is the key-determining factor when relating to it. Media and interactive telecommunications, are mechanisms for delivering content. In undertaking to create media, content is the ultimate message. As such, content should be considered in terms of the aesthetic generated by concurrence with people's lives and the increasing likelihood of synchronicity between background broadcasts and personal foreground events.




<White noise definition>

The physics textbook definition of white noise is; noise having a frequency spectrum that is continuous and uniform over a specified frequency band. (Note: White noise has equal power per hertz over the specified frequency band. Synonym- additive white gaussian noise. "White noise is Noise with autocorrelation function zero everywhere but at 0, and is also called Johnson Noise. It has a frequency spectrum. The noise produced by a Resistor is white noise." -Streit)

White noise is also used to describe the incessant babble of radio, traffic, running rivers and brand placement. The amount of white noise has increased dramatically with the advance of technology. As the environment becomes saturated with product designed for attention, white noise has become the subject of considerable societal discourse. It is important to consider the increasing prominence of random environmental signals as a double entendre. It refers to the general increase of daily stimulus (more cars on the road, channels on the TV), and our growing awareness of background data's relationship to the focus of our actions.

Doubtless Dellilo perceives the significance of white noise increase. Not only is it the title of his book, he passes considerable reflection within the story upon the interplay of white noise and society. Jack Gladney, Dellilo's fictional educated everyman, and his family are living in complete awareness of their consumer status. The consumption of radio, television, groceries, goods and services is of paramount importance to them, especially at times of stress. The white noise is more then a background to them (to us?) it is a viscous pool in which they find themselves buoyant. The white noise is a semi-tangible thing in which they can take semi-lucid comfort.

</white noise definition >

<Examples of Dellilo's white noise>

When the issue of Jack and Babbettes' weight comes under mealtime scrutiny a smoke alarm goes off. The batteries where getting low and the system chose to alert at the auspicious moment when weight (and the health, life expectancy issues therein) became an alarming focus.

After weeks of unpleasent cultural ritual and disagreemnts over station and subject matter, the family is sent a message of destruction. A series of TV documentaries about disaster brings them back together. Parents and children alike were awed by TV’s manifestation of their unpleasent visions… and ate Chinese take-out in silence.

There are countless other subtle radio and background echos of events transpiring on the surface of the novel. Large meaningfull corrrelations seem to hover tantelizing on the edge of probability. Could not the Toxic event itself be a parrallel to Babette's adultury? In so much as the toxic event bespeaks certain mortality for Jack, Babette's affair with Dylar leave her fear of death more real then ever.

Perhaps the most telling white noise reminder of the book's message is an ageless literary cliche. As Jack sets out to commit the evil deed- to bring another to death, as he almost dies himself beneath an elevated roadway and escapes into the arms of a skeleton that once lived holy faith; it is raining. Environmental static at a fundamental level. The rain is an easily recognized filter, a background signal strongly associateted with death.

</Examples of Dellilo's white noise>


<Coincidental synchronicity>

Everybody dies; it rains all the time. The radio plays alot of love songs while young couples are in love. We are too often angry in and around our homes; almost all TV plots revolve around some conflict or other. Despite this obvious awareness, there are times when events transpire with such intense irony, they seem eerie enough to be more then coincidental. Thinking about someone before they call, hearing your thoughts paraphrased over the radio, a car horn sounds as you make a mistake at your desk... White Noise has become ever more compelling. As it increases we begin to treat the static like feedback and harvest it for clues.

<The Internet>

There are many that see the increase in white noise as a significant portend. From The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology- "The Mayan Great Cycle... creates in affect a planetary ENS (exo-nervous system). Once the ENS is in place acceleration becomes exponential and phases into synchronization. Acceleration is measured by the collapse in time it takes humans to communicate. Once maximum acceleration is achieved and communication becomes electronic and virtually instantaneous, then acceleration has phased into synchronization. "

As the Earth's telecommunications network becomes more advanced, humanity is jacked into mainstream global consciousness with advancing fidelity. Society has long understood that deeper knowledge of energy (now actively applied as electricty) would bring our spirits together. As it was said, so it has been done- our exponential technological expansion has facilitated interpersonal connections that operate on many levels. Internet has made the Logos (smokey database of all knowledge) more accesible then any time since ancient Greeks pilgramed to Delpi for consulting the oracle itslef.

</the Internet></coincidental synchronicity>

<Book’s relevence to Interactive Telecommunications>

<What Dellilo had in mind>

Dellilo's book is relevant to interactive telecommunications with polymorphic agility. We must consider what the author had in mind while writing. His comments (exerpts from an interview) are our clearest insight into the novel's worth. "As technology advances in complexity and scope, fear becomes more primitive."


Fear loses focus because the new dangers are not understood. Any on-line observer can detail several conspiracies that have sprung from paranoid minds. Paranioa is the new anxiety, rich in logo-motion detail, while the antagonists become an ambigous 'them. Indeed there was a statement in the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS which said DeLillo is "the chief shaman of the paranoid school of American fiction."


"The element of chance and coincidence may be as strong as the sense of an engineered history."


He makes no small matter of coincidental relevance. If these apparent links are observable phenomenon, many ask if it would not sensibly follow that under intensely concentrated awareness, these information-teasing transducers could be remotely controlled and forced into certain responses. What most often happens when individuals intend to exercise a tangible influence on the facts of reality is the creation of "engineered history". This is one of the oldest techniques for painting pictures on the progression of reality. There is a powerful motive for the false attribution of text.

Consider the commentator Simplicius, writing in the sixth century A.D. Certainly he has an opinion of his own, along with countless others, contemporary at that time. Simplicius however, does better than regular authorship. He records his opinions and to give them immediate clout he attributes them to an earlier thinker with more renown than he. What author wouldn't sacrifice the credit of authorship, in exchange for immediate acceptance of his or her ideas? As Simplicius commented on the Physics of Aristotle he "made long quotations from Parmenides, Empedocles, Anaxagoras... for the sake of literary embellishment" (The Presocratic Philosphers pg.1)

</what Dellilo had in mind>


<Subject matter ref="content">

When sorting out relationships between Dellilo's novel and anything else, our key consideration is the content of the novel. What is the content and how does it relate? The subject matter, plots and story. An obvious association is the insencerity of life ensconsed in noise, particularly soundbites re-enforcing consumption's pre-eminence

The book revolves around a family (likely representative of an entire social tier) obsessed with the only sure things life has to offer: Death and taxes (taxes in this case symbolic of the omnipresent consumer motiff). All events in the story that do not occur in diect response to death and consumerism are taking place at a superficial level. This emotional simplicity may be interpreted as a result of the family’s over-exposure to pseudo-sensational messages of commercialization.

Thinking about death is a neurotic trait of the novel’s protagonists. Verily, death itself may be considered the subtle antagonist. Jack studies Hitler, a demon archtype repsonsable for the deaths of millions. The toxic event looms doom. Babette’s father is a vivid reminder of human decomposition. The ending and the epilogue are both hanging by a thread over deaths abyss. "Who will die first?" They profess love in terms of how horrible the others death would be. Why this sustained morbid endeavour? Can it be the crackerjack pacing of advertisemnets, the seasonal change of fasion, and the baroque weekly consumption of brightly arranged disposable packaging- has highlighted reality transience?

Change is the only assurance the world ever gives. Change and ultimately death. Jack and Babette have polerized their rational so that every action is a grasp at fleeting consumer comfort in the world of change. Ever eager for that white noise, for anything to hold, eat, listen to, anything to distract them from the sneaky silence of numb death. These signals are life, and though they percieve the absurdity of their actions, they know those actions are all they have, that without preforming- they come that much closer to the end of the show.

</Subject matter></Book’s relevence to Interactive Telecommunications>


<Entrenchment of existing belief in human nature>

One clear explanation of the often-coincidental synchronization of white noise with the subject in mind is the way humans percieve reality. "A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest" –Paul Simon.

Why ABC? Because...(argumentation), so also XYZ. This is the structure of science used to defend and entrench the ideas with which you begin. Familiarity with the terms of a discipline facilitates a grasp of its jargon. Confidently speaking the jargon of a specialized field is the primary requirement for expertise. Clearly there are elements of technical know-how that are extremely important to accomplishing complex tasks, yet…

<Experience with the novel as testimony to my own worldview>

Dellilo’s utilaztion of white noise, in particular his attention to synchronization- pleasently (predictably) re-enforced my own developing perception of reality:

What is real in a world made up of units? A three-dimensional world changing with time. Here the one is all things. The two a required extension following ones division and leading to a third, fourth, etc. The simplest construction, dimension (did I mention), where visual verse takes shape in space.

Of this system based on numbers and interacting statements of definition, there is a subjective perception. Interpretations are based on experience. A mystical authority is generated within the discursive turbines of specialized speculation. Might and magic have become the human endeavor through the control of natural forces, particularly energy and its more precise conception, electricity.

The illusionist employs distracting banter and gesture to divert attention from the mechanics of his unique hoax. Compare this to the use of technical jargon and micro scaled component systems elaborated ad infinitum to explain our justifications of competence and control.

The examples of process are self-evident, with perspective the belief form environment as symbiotic telepathic community of distinct coincidental patterns. The shared surroundings our synchronous thoughts and intentions are so clear as to be transparent.

</Experience with the novel as testimony to my own world view>

<Hearing what you want to hear in the noise>

Micheal Foucault, a great philosepher of our time asserts with Dellilo and myself that humans percieve in accordance with their expectations, seek and yee shall find. Foucault claimed that man’s work is criticism, that we should disregard the "oh you see" assumptions and find fault. Indeed: leave out the o-u-c, makes his very name


Doubtless this was a revelation that inspired Foucault’s work. Just as my own name, Luke has made The Empire Strikes Back’s Skywalkers a major influence on my own beliefs. It’s because we’re all trained to pick our own names out above the din of environmental buffeting. We desire to recognize, to associate with ourselves as best we can and, more often then not to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just as when one doubts the video will patch through- chances are it wont. However, be certain you have contected all the cables properly and your positive expectations (especially justified with familiarity) will be rewarded.

</Hearing what you want to hear in the noise>

</Entrenchment of existing belief in human nature>

<Detailing the creation of white noise><Effects of synchronicity with white noise>

The influence of the white noise must not be taken lightly. While it may seem that there is an ambigous cause/effect relationship between the random signals and our conscious objectives, the tendancy among contemporary adherants is to attribute all causal functionality to the forground players and percieve the white noise as echo. We must recall however, that for ages society has set great value on the noise as a source of cues to action. What is white noise to religious cultures but the signs, portents and words of God?

To millions of Chinese Taoists, listening to the background noise, letting it flow over and include you, letting it influence your activities as you influence it- this is following the Tao, or the way. It is natural, if the coincidence is profound enough it may be construed as sign from Jesus. If you are able to demonstrate intangable controll of the feedback at a timely moment, you may just as well be, "using the force".

People everywhere draw from the noise, weather they are skeptical observers leaving off a conversation drowned out by passing sirens, or symbol hungry non-commitents reading the future in the stars. Here now is the crux of our issue- in what special way does white noise relate to students of new media?

For those of us who would make a career producing transmissions we hope to be broadcast as far as possible, to be as great an influence as telecommunications allows. We will be creating the white noise of others. Inherent in this undertaking is a massive responsibility. As illustrated, the background can influence the forground. That fact must be born foremost in mind while generating the steadiest of functional fundamentals: content.

<Ideal environments>

The ideal white noise would be at once compelling and educational, with a message of hope and peace. This is treacherous ground to walk over- our content should adhear to the lofty standards we would shelter humanity with, while at the same time- shall it function in the capacity it is intended, our content must be magnetic if anything less then thrilling.

Pleasant to imagine a utopian symbiosis wherein the individual (of which none would exist as anything more then nodes in the network of humanity) can directly influence nearby monitors with whatever rides foremost in consciousness. Such transparent interactivity willl be an intermediary step towards telepathy.

Granting that to talk thusly is tenuous at best, particularly among the technicaly adroit. Still are we not always communicating with one another at levels beyond verbal? Body language and facial expressions that tell life stories without uttering a word. Honking comunicates unspeakables as surely as dimming the lights and switching the cd to Barry White.

We have to ask ourselves "what kind of situations will our content run parrallel with?" We must not submit to the quick and easy creation of superficial-catch-phrase-new-and-improved messages! Time and energy should be invested in creating clever product, with the harmfull message reserved only for use as an important lesson.

</Effects of synchronicity with white noise>

</Ideal environments>

</Detailing the creation of white noise>



"…Language is the final enlightenment, and it is language, in its beauty, its ambiguity and its shifting textures…" -D. Dellilo













<Rough bibliography>

Don Dellilo, White Noise


Kirk Raven and Schofield, The Presocratic Philosphers

Streit, L. White Noise: An Infinite Dimensional Calculus. Kluwer Academic, 1993.


The message of the Crystal Skull.



</Luke T. Harms 1997>