White noise | Moment's Notice

By Maria Montalvo | Sep 16, 2017

In its scientific definition, white noise is a “random signal having equal intensity at different frequencies, giving it a constant power spectral density.” Just like the hum created by the many separate conversations in a restaurant, white noise has so many different intensities that it seems as if it is one consistent intensity.

It is not unlike the consistent stream of extreme news over the last several months.

Just over the last weeks, two hurricanes impacted or are impacting family and friends, and between them came the rescinding of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), major Russia investigation announcements, a deadly earthquake in Mexico, fires across the West, an unlikely deal in Washington, D.C., another direction for Syria, a North Korean missile test, and of course a new baby to join the British Royal family.

There was even big news locally – progress on our own Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector.

Each story seems like it cannot be topped in its influence or outlandishness or gravity, and yet, the very next week, or next day, another announcement or Tweet or occurrence eclipses it, including a total eclipse of the sun. If a business trip or adventure with the family takes you away from the news for 48 hours, you find yourself hopelessly behind.

The significance of some of these events is enduring, whether it be people who lost their lives or everything they own, policies with wide-reaching ramifications, or actions that degrade or lessen our dignity as humans.

With very few exceptions, the media seems incapable of providing complete coverage of each story and apparently prefers the schizophrenic approach to reporting.

Turn on any channel or check your social media, and most outlets repeat themselves over and over for a day or two, without putting true depth to an issue, and then leave the topic as if it never occurred once the next thing comes along.

In starker terms, the “SQUIRREL!” method. (For those of you who did not see the fantastic movie “Up,” the dog character was completely distracted each time a squirrel, real or imagined, came near.)

White noise is supposed to be relaxing to the brain. This noise is becoming a din – loud, unpleasant and prolonged.

One of the other scientific features of white noise is that the varied signals should be “statistically uncorrelated” to each other. The frequencies are not only random, but unrelated. The overwhelmingly intense news, and its constant reinterpretation, is starting to feel less arbitrary every time I watch TV or read the newspaper.

I will not go as far as to open my book of conspiracies and say it is an organized strategy to drive us all crazy, but I get exhausted trying to keep it all straight. This white noise does not promote drifting off in a zenlike meditation, but instead wanting to shut it all off.

We have to find a way to cope other than shutting down, though, and pick out the important peaks in the frequencies. After all, the more unfocused we are, the less capable we are to really pay attention to the truly impactful policies that are easily missed in the barrage of observations.

Follow news that is based in fact. Talk to people who can teach you what you don’t know. Read news from outside the U.S. Hold your news outlets accountable and insist they present more complete reporting. What’s that public service announcement … the more you know? Know more, so we can look out for each other.

Then again, football season is starting … maybe there will be another deflategate?


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