Beeps are on the attack.
How many are there in an hour? Let’s count.
I cooked dinner in the microwave – two beeps to choose the time, one for the start button, and a double beep when the food was hot. Two more beeps when I didn’t take it out it fast enough.
While waiting for dinner there were two beeps when I left the refrigerator door open too long and three beeps from my smartwatch reminding me to stand, breathe, and keep up the good work. Six beeps drifted in from my computer alerting me to you’ve got mail and two beeps came from the washer and dryer.
The most irritating is the phantom beep – the one that roars from an unknown place. When I follow the sound and get close, the beeps stop – only to start up again after I give up.
How many beeps did I hear in an hour? The answer was sobering. One beep a minute or at least 600 a day – a lot more than tweets coming from the White House.
That doesn’t include secondary beeps – the ones I hear but aren’t mine – my husband’s smartphone, the woman using a tablet while sitting next to me on the train, or the other cars in the parking lot.
I tried to drown them out with Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) saying “beep” on YouTube for ten hours or 30,279 times.
It didn’t work.
From our homes to cars and supermarkets, there’s no escaping the beeps. Even wildlife is involved. The garbage trucks in my neighborhood beep when they back up. The songbirds have learned the sound so now I hear beeps from the trees like airborne Face Book trolls.
Ironically, a beep is just a lot of nothing. It’s a cheap digital sound that’s flat and unnatural like the thin skin of our favorite autocrat. Most electronic sound designers don’t bother to make it more pleasant. Natalie Wolchover wrote in Mother Nature Network, “Beep sounds are like cars driving at 60 mph then suddenly hitting a wall, as opposed to gradually slowing to a stop. The sound doesn’t change over time, and it doesn’t fade away, so our brains are baffled about what they are and where they’re coming from.”
How many times have you yelled at a beep – I hear you now shut up! Did you ever tell the car to leave you alone when it beeps because you didn’t put the seat belt on fast enough? What about being nasty to your phone that always beeps in the middle of a juicy conversation?
Beeps weren’t very popular in the old days. The word originally came from the sound of a 1929 car horn (beep-beep). It evolved into today’s short, high-pitched nuisance. Now they’re everywhere. We can’t live with them and we can’t live without them. Diana Guerin, a blogger, describes “the timer you set [to beep] when you meditate so you can forget about the time.”
There’s no escape.
Experts call it noise annoyance – a not-so-distant cousin of noise pollution. Beeps are designed to disturb you with an awful alert that demands attention, like a Donald Trump speech.
Beeps can mess with your health, sleep, and heart rate. Ever have a misguided beep wake you in the middle of the night? What about chasing down a smoke alarm that beeps to tell you the battery is low rather than a raging fire? Ted Rueter, of Noise Free America argues that car beeps and squawks are an audio assault, claiming, “we’re under attack every time we’re a in a parking lot.”
The odd thing is that in a beepless moment you wonder why it’s so quiet. Power failure? Dead phone? No one wants to email me? It raises that timeless question: “if a beep goes off and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?”