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Office Cubicle Dwellers Build 'Walls' for Privacy

  • Ted Landphair

Things are pretty quiet in this small cubicle farm in Portland, Oregon - but only because no one’s working there right now. (Asa Wilson, Wikipedia Commons)

Things are pretty quiet in this small cubicle farm in Portland, Oregon - but only because no one’s working there right now. (Asa Wilson, Wikipedia Commons)

Office mazes in which just about everybody below the rank of vice president works in large open spaces, divided by partitions into “cubicles,” are the standard workplace setting for millions of Americans.

These “cubicle farms” are ridiculed by cartoonists and often loathed by their inhabitants as symbols of conformity and all-too-public work spaces in which one cannot help but overhear every word of a loud or chattering neighbor.


But as the New York Times recently reported, dwellers in these office “bullpens” are building walls to gain some privacy.
This is an actual floor plan of an office cubicle layout in a really large, open office. One wonders whether “pink noise” would be enough to stifle distracting sounds in such a setting. (Newell Post, Wikipedia Commons)

This is an actual floor plan of an office cubicle layout in a really large, open office. One wonders whether “pink noise” would be enough to stifle distracting sounds in such a setting. (Newell Post, Wikipedia Commons)


There are two kinds: Makeshift physical ones, by stacking file cabinets atop each other around their cubes, or lining up plants, pictures of kids, and anything else they can think of to separate themselves from their office neighbors.

And technological walls. Just about all day long, some cubicle dwellers listen to soothing mood music or white noise through headsets, just to block out the chatter. And a few workplaces are piping in what’s called “pink noise.”

This is what the Times calls “a soft whooshing emitted over loudspeakers that sounds like a ventilation system but is specially formulated to match the frequencies of human voices.”

This “whooshing” doesn’t entirely drown out chatty colleagues. But it muddles their conversations and mellows out distractions.

The term “pink noise” derives from the color when the sound displays as visible light on frequency spectrums. Other sound frequencies show up as white, red, brown, and gray.

Entrepreneurs in one New York office told the Times that the close proximity of workers to one another in cubicle farms enhances communication, idea-sharing, and office efficiency.

But they admitted to occasionally “retreating to a bathroom or a broom closet for private chats.
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