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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.

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    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 Jan 20 '16 at 3:01
  • @RedCaio : Thanks. It's always bugged me too! I've finally gotten around to asking it. :-) – Praxis Jan 20 '16 at 3:04
  • Its not just StarTrek. Almost every on-screen computer chatters away like a 1960's Teletype. – Chenmunka Jan 20 '16 at 9:39
  • Christ... could you imagine everyone in your office using a starfleet computer?? Would sound like some horrible hyper fast techno music nightmare! – Daft Jan 20 '16 at 16:25
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    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 Jan 20 '16 at 16:44
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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 Jan 20 '16 at 3:03
  • @Praxis I'll modify my answer slightly, but I still think that's the main reason ;) – Often Right Jan 20 '16 at 3:04
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    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 Jan 20 '16 at 15:16
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    @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 Jan 20 '16 at 17:07
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    Also, to serve as musical accompaniment to make mundane tasks (like Data scanning for life forms) more fun: youtube.com/watch?v=dWBmaKk32fE – mdwhatcott Jan 20 '16 at 18:11
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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 Jan 27 '16 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 Jan 27 '16 at 22:14
  • There are data retrieval sound effects at roughly 16 seconds into the video... – Praxis Jan 28 '16 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 Jan 28 '16 at 17:22
  • But does your computer beep at you during the entire time it takes to run the process? ;-) – Praxis Jan 28 '16 at 21:46
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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.

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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.

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Why are Starfleet computers so noisy?

Answer: The sound effects for the consoles were designed to bring the panels to life and provide the illusion that they were more than just eye candy.

While the actual sets contain lit consoles, they do not, in and of themselves, make sounds of any kind. Rather, the sound effects, much like the computer voice (voice by Majel Barrett)were added during the editing process.

In short, the sounds were created to provide depth and to create the illusion of functionality.

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    This is an out-of-universe answer. The question is looking for an in-universe answer. Why would Starfleet (not the show's production designers) design noisy computers? – Praxis Feb 10 '16 at 21:13

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