x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Modern life is ruled by beeps

All the whirrs emanating from my phone, the various watches lurking from drawers and all the countless other 'alerting' devices make for a cacophony of beeps all vying for attention every day.

While it's undoubtedly the least welcome, being the one that wakes us (sometimes) from our slumber each morning, the humble alarm clock is just one of the litany of beeps that now appear to control our days.

Beep here, beep there, beep with vibration, smothered beep suggesting it's coming from under a cushion. Everywhere, a beep. If there was a noise to represent the 21st century, it'd be short, shrill and beep-like.

But with every beep different, our existence now seems to revolve around making split-second assessments whenever we hear one. What is its resonance and depth? What does it mean? Where is it coming from? What should I do?

Double beep, text message, phone, ignore. Ping-like beep, email, phone, ignore. Irritating tinny beep, alarm on old Casio watch, bedside table, ignore and promise myself I definitely will figure out how to turn it off later. Repetitive loud piercing beep, the house is on fire, run.

And then there are the litany of beeps that come solely from the computer. The other day I found myself in a decidedly complicated situation that involved five different online text-based chats across three different platforms. Three on Skype, and one each on Gmail and Facebook.

Now, as much as I enjoy speaking to my friends, it wasn't a fun experience at all, especially given that each conversation was different and the friends didn't really know each other. There's always the fear that, without the proper attention, you could accidentally respond in kind to a scatological joke in the box where you're consoling someone on the loss of their dog.

But, the trouble is, each of the chat services has their own different type of beep, to which ears have to be acutely trained to avoid such mishaps.

Skype's chat beep is like a quacking pop, perhaps the sound of a small suction cup being pulled off a moist bathroom mirror. The Gmail chat beep, however, is more of a staccato chord played on a child's electric keyboard set to "marimba". Sadly, it seems those busy social-media peeps were too busy amassing friends to pay attention because the Facebook Chat message alert is remarkably similar to that of Gmail, with perhaps a bit of a pingier edge.

It's all very confusing, but hardly as if I'm sitting on the brink of a technical revolution. Facebook and Gmail are about as ubiquitous as toast and even my mother can figure out Skype (mainly while I'm at work, thanks mum!).

However, these, together with all the beeps emanating from my phone, the various watches lurking from drawers, the numerous kitchen appliances, the seat-belt warning in the car and countless other "alerting" devices, make for a cacophony of beeps all vying for attention at all times of the day.

I'm not offering any form of solution here (you'll notice I never do in these columns), it's just something that has been rising steadily over the years (usually whenever I decide I really do need some new gadget or communication-based app). The concern is that, like car alarms, in time we'll just learn to ignore these beeps, as if we've got some sort of built-in earmuffs. And then what? How are phones and email services and other devices going to get our attention? Small electric shocks?

Blimey, it doesn't bear thinking about.


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