The science behind ‘haunted’ electronics

31st October 2023
Paige West

In the age of advancing technology, tales of electronics behaving in inexplicable ways have often been whispered among users.

From televisions mysteriously turning on in the middle of the night to radios emitting unsettling static despite being turned off, many have wondered if their devices are truly 'haunted'.

Let's demystify some of these occurrences by delving into the engineering and scientific reasons behind them.

1. The self-starting television

Many have reported their television sets turning on by themselves. While it may seem like a ghostly hand is at play, the cause is often more mundane. Some televisions are designed to turn on automatically after a software update. Others might be affected by remote signal interference from neighbouring devices or even a malfunctioning remote control.

2. The ghostly radio static

Radios emitting static or voices when off can be unsettling. However, this phenomenon can be attributed to capacitors within the radio, which can sometimes retain a charge and release it slowly, causing the radio to emit sound briefly. External interference or a malfunctioning switch might also be to blame.

3. The phantom phone vibration 

Many smartphone users have felt their phone vibrate in their pocket, only to find no notification or call. This 'phantom vibration syndrome' is not a result of any electronic malfunction. Instead, it's believed to be a psychological phenomenon where our brain misinterprets minor muscle contractions as phone vibrations, especially if we're used to frequently checking our devices.

4. The eerie computer startup

Older computers, especially, might sometimes start up on their own. This can be due to features like 'Wake-on-LAN', which allows a computer to be turned on remotely using a network message. Scheduled updates or tasks might also cause an unexpected startup.

5. The mysterious light flashes

Seeing LED lights flash on a device that's turned off can be perplexing. Often, this can be due to capacitors discharging or minor power fluctuations in the circuitry.

While tales of haunted electronics make for great campfire stories, they often have logical and scientific explanations. As electronics engineers continue to advance technology, understanding these quirks becomes crucial, not just to debunk myths but to improve user experience and device functionality.

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