Monday, June 19, 2006

Are You Getting Old? Here's a Simple Test

Have you heard about the 'mosquito' ringtone? Apparently some British company invented a high-pitched tone that most people can hear up until the age of about 20, but cannot hear at all past the age of 30. The tone was intended to drive troublemaking teen loiterers away from reputable businesses - and apparently it caught on very quickly.

Some enterprising soul turned it into a cell phone ringtone, so teens can hear it without their schoolteachers being bothered. There's more info on that here:

A Ring Tone Meant to Fall on Deaf Ears
In that old battle of the wills between young people and their keepers, the young have found a new weapon that could change the balance of power on the cellphone front: a ring tone that many adults cannot hear.

In settings where cellphone use is forbidden — in class, for example — it is perfect for signaling the arrival of a text message without being detected by an elder of the species.

"When I heard about it I didn't believe it at first," said Donna Lewis, a technology teacher at the Trinity School in Manhattan. "But one of the kids gave me a copy, and I sent it to a colleague. She played it for her first graders. All of them could hear it, and neither she nor I could."

The technology, which relies on the fact that most adults gradually lose the ability to hear high-pitched sounds, was developed in Britain but has only recently spread to America — by Internet, of course.

Recently, in classes at Trinity and elsewhere, some students have begun testing the boundaries of their new technology. One place was Michelle Musorofiti's freshman honors math class at Roslyn High School on Long Island.

At Roslyn, as at most schools, cellphones must be turned off during class. But one morning last week, a high-pitched ring tone went off that set teeth on edge for anyone who could hear it. To the students' surprise, that group included their teacher.

"Whose cellphone is that?" Miss Musorofiti demanded, demonstrating that at 28, her ears had not lost their sensitivity to strangely annoying, high-pitched, though virtually inaudible tones.

"You can hear that?" one of them asked.

"Adults are not supposed to be able to hear that," said another, according to the teacher's account.

...It was marketed as an ultrasonic teenager repellent, an ear-splitting 17-kilohertz buzzer designed to help shopkeepers disperse young people loitering in front of their stores while leaving adults unaffected.

The principle behind it is a biological reality that hearing experts refer to as presbycusis, or aging ear. While Miss Musorofiti is not likely to have it, most adults over 40 or 50 seem to have some symptoms, scientists say.

While most human communication takes place in a frequency range between 200 and 8,000 hertz (a hertz being the scientific unit of frequency equal to one cycle per second), most adults' ability to hear frequencies higher than that begins to deteriorate in early middle age.

So here's the question: can you hear it?

I'm beyond 30 years old, and I can't hear anything. Let me know in the comments section whether you can hear it, and how old you are.

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Anonymous said...

I'm 56 with good hearing--I never listened to loud rock when younger. Couldn't hear a thing.

Anonymous said...

I hear it, loud and clear.

31 year old.

Anonymous said...

Interesting--I can hear it, and I'm a 45-year-old male. It's rather piercing, too.

Tom Grey said...

49, I hear it, as does my 36 year old wife and 9 year son.

Piercing and annoying. I also hear, and hate, skeeters.

Alex V said...

I'm 39 and I couldn't hear anything.
You've ruined my whole day.

The Editor at IP said...

My experience was pretty much identical to yours, Alex. And you know what they say: misery loves company...

Anonymous said...

I can only hear the first tone. I tested it with my 14 yro son. He says he hears the whole thing. He says it sounds like a "screeech." He is laughing at me. Dang!

My wife claims she can hear although it is not very loud. Wifey and I are 44.