Starfleet computer consoles are rather noisy. I can understand — especially with 24th Century touchscreen LCARS consoles — why they might be designed to emit sounds when pressed. (This way, you'll know if you have inadvertently initiated a photon torpedo launch when you were resting your hand on the tactical console...)

But the consoles also make plenty of noise while they are retrieving information, for instance at 00:16s in this compilation:

Present-day computers make unavoidable hard-drive whirring sounds while accessing data, but do not purposely make sound effects to indicate that data is being accessed (at least not typically).

Why are Starfleet computer consoles so noisy?

I perfectly understand the out-of-universe reasons for this — it makes sense from a production point of view, as it helps to create the atmosphere. I'm asking for in-universe reasons. Why would Starfleet engineers add so many sound effects to consoles?

Speculation is fine, but something official — such as a statement from Michael Okuda or a technical manual entry — is preferable.

  • 3
    I have always wondered the same thing! They'll be silently working and the consoles are beeping and chirping up a storm and I'd think "man, that'd be so annoying!" lol :) +!
    – RedCaio
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 3:01
  • @RedCaio : Thanks. It's always bugged me too! I've finally gotten around to asking it. :-)
    – Praxis
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 3:04
  • Its not just StarTrek. Almost every on-screen computer chatters away like a 1960's Teletype.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 9:39
  • 1
    If a crewmember is dozing off in her chair, her commanding officer wouldn't hear the requisite number of beeps per minute & be alerted. :)
    – RobertF
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 16:44
  • 1
    Probably because the foley team realized how silent the show is without all the background buzz. But an in-universe theory? Space is lonely. If nothing else you have the inescapable chatter of the computer.
    – Kai Qing
    Commented Jan 21, 2016 at 0:26

5 Answers 5


Probably as acknowledgement for input and processes occurring...for the user and (!) for his or her colleagues

In all the instances shown in the above video, it seems to me that every time a noise is made by the computer, it is when someone has pressed a button on the screen somewhere. Rather than just touching the screen and having no acknowledgement, it is probably useful to know that they have pressed what they thought they had.

Focusing in on the main question about why it makes so much noise when retrieving data we have the out-of-universe reason for 'rule of cool' and informing people that a system is coming online. The latter is also a valid in-universe reason though; if you want to access data it's nice to have some acknowledgement of that. So, by having the sound output acknowledging that, yes a system is coming online to access the data you requested, you know something is working. From a troubleshooting perspective this is particularly useful. I press a button and I don't hear the system coming online tells me what the problem is - there must be a problem with the system connections.

Bear in mind (and I know this is going from a bit of an out-of-universe perspective) that when TNG was made, keyboards and mice were quite noisy and so the idea of not having a sound confirmation of making an action would be alien.

This then raises the question of why audio notifications are better than visual ones; wouldn't audio notifications just annoy everyone around you? Well, it could be argued that this is part of the reason. When you consider when people use LCARS, generally they are in a group environment. So, when they do something, there is a little sound notification, not only alerting the user, but also the people around them. I don't know about you, but if I was aboard the Enterprise-D, I'd want to make sure that other people could tell what Wesley was doing with the anti-matter containment field to ensure he wasn't messing it up without spending all their time looking over his shoulder!

  • Thanks for the response. This is already in my question (responses to buttons being pressed --- see first paragraph). I'm wondering more about noises accompanying data retrieval --- see the paragraph below the video.
    – Praxis
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 3:03
  • @Praxis I'll modify my answer slightly, but I still think that's the main reason ;) Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 3:04
  • 4
    I don[t think you need to go out-of-universe. From a computing perspective this actually makes more sense than no noise - practically all computer systems have some kind of indicator during data retrieval/processing tasks, otherwise it's impossible to know if the computer is actually doing anything. At the moment this is mainly visual in the form of loading bars and other indicators. Given the hands off, access anywhere state of the Enterprise computer it makes complete sense to have a "loading" noise rather than a visual cue.
    – DavidS
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 15:16
  • 1
    @LucienStals Yes - but note in Star Wars computers are relatively quiet, perhaps because there's more dialogue + movie score. In Star Trek the bleeps are filler in scenes with nothing going on but crewmembers punching on displays.
    – RobertF
    Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 17:07
  • 1
    Also, to serve as musical accompaniment to make mundane tasks (like Data scanning for life forms) more fun: youtube.com/watch?v=dWBmaKk32fE Commented Jan 20, 2016 at 18:11

What, you've never heard anyone's touchscreen cell phone making artificial clicking as they type? It works by the same principle - a touchscreen, with "buttons" that don't really exist, right next to each other, easy to miss letting you accidentally not press any input at all. Usually those sounds are a little quieter, maybe using tactile vibration instead of sound.

Heck, nearly every ATM and credit card point of sale terminal does exactly this too. And for the same reason - to reduce errors.

In fact, watching this, it's kind of weird that there aren't a lot of "dammits" and frantic backspacing. ;)

  • Ernie, I agree with you completely about artificial typing noises! :-) I put this at the very start of my question (about how sounds to indicate that you've pressed a button on a touchscreen can be very useful). But my main issue, as stated in the question body, is with noises to indicate data retrieval and/or processing, which create a very noisy work environment on the Enterprise...
    – Praxis
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 20:38
  • Having finally gotten around to watching the video, I couldn't identify any "data processing noises". Which is why I deleted my first answer.
    – Ernie
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 22:14
  • There are data retrieval sound effects at roughly 16 seconds into the video...
    – Praxis
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 1:48
  • I for one, go out of my way to make computers beep at me when they're done a process that takes a long time. Then I can go do something else while it's working.
    – Ernie
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 17:22
  • But does your computer beep at you during the entire time it takes to run the process? ;-)
    – Praxis
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 21:46

I am going to echo what others have said about the in-universe justification of sounds indicating a part of the system state.

I would like to add, however, that this principle is as a real thing and it goes well beyond having pre-defined sound clips play upon particular events (as it has been supported since at least Windows 95). The generic technique is called sonification, and it is a subject of active research (e.g. one recent research paper, another recent research paper).

The idea is that human (and certainly, other humanoid :-) ) users can easily detect anomalies even in a somewhat complex pattern of sounds. While many of the sound effects we see on Star Trek seem to be pre-recorded (they always play out the same), that data processing one you pointed out might very well be the indication of something being loaded successfully - I speculate that, had there been any errors, a few of the beeps might have been replaced with something else, thereby immediately giving users a hint that there is a problem with X percent of the data.


My speculation: it's so you can perform multiple tasks at once, without looking at every single screen.

Think about the little beeps as auditory progress bars.

I can start a planetary scan on one console, turn around and start a shield modulation on another console, and then start writing up a log on a third console. (Or do all three on the same console.) By listening to the noises made by the first two processes, I can know exactly what the first two processes are doing without turning away from my third task to look at them.

The "real" answer is probably a combination of all of the answers, but this is the first thing that occurred to me.


Most likely the sounds serve as a reminder of a carried out function. Also the sounds have different pitches. A negative connotation often has a buzz or lower pitch sound. Confirmation have a high pitch or beeping sound. the sound of pressed buttons is probably a affect to remind the audience they're working with technology. It's also probably a means to indicate a button has been pressed. Keyboards today often make sounds, since we don't look at them when we type the sound is indicative of knowing we pressed it.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.