Strong opinions, weakly held

Life by the beep

This morning I was thinking about all of the objects in my life that beep at me, and all of the different beeps that they emit. My iPhone rings when someone calls, rings differently when I get a text message, and beeps when it finishes downloading email or I plug it in to sync. My Tivo beeps and blorps constantly. Adium beeps, although a bit less after I told it to stop beeping whenever any of my contacts signed on. My car stereo beeps when I turn off the car in order to remind me to remove its face plate and take it with me. The car beeps if you turn it off with the headlights on. The dishwasher beeps when it’s done, as do the clothes washer and dryer. The refrigerator beeps if you leave the door open too long. The timer on the stove beeps when time runs out and the oven beeps when it’s finished preheating. The microwave beeps. The rice cooker plays a little song when it’s done cooking some rice. Any number of objects beep when their batteries get low although oddly enough, my iPhone does not.

It’s practically a language unto itself. I’m conditioned to know exactly what each of the beeps mean and what device they come from, even when they’re quite similar. Maybe one day identifying objects by their beep will be a discipline akin to identifying birds by their call. I can imagine the bragging now — “I just caught my first Nokia N70 receiving a text message in the wild, they’re not even offered by US carriers!”


  1. I can see setting up my computer to listen to beeps as well, and do the same thing we do – recognize and process the sounds. Perhaps we could set up events on various sounds when heard, etc.

  2. Funny you shoudl mention this. I make as many of my gadgets as possible make birdcalls for beeps actually. Adium, cell phone, phone in house, etc.

  3. My dogs also recognize the various beeps from around my house. My new voicemail beep from my cell phone and my pager going off drive them nuts. In particular, my pager going off forces the eldest one to go around with her tail between her legs for a good hour or so.

  4. It reminds me of the dystopia bit at the end of end of Gun, With Occasional Music where all the objects play a little ditty.

  5. I’ve often had a little bonding moment after hearing someone else’s Treo ringing (and frequently thinking that it’s mine). There’s a particular family of ringtones that only the Treos use.

    The same appears to be true of the iPhone, although I haven’t investigated in depth beyond noticing that they sound very Apple.

  6. And then there’s the confusion when something beeps and you don’t recognize it–or even where the beep came from. More than once I’ve wandered around the house with my ear cocked trying to figure out what device is trying to get my attention.

  7. Speaking of birds and beeps, I’ve only come to realize how prevalent they are in my life after getting a parrot as a pet. Parrots are very social creatures and quite cued in on cause and effect. Sounds that result in food, action or reaction are particularly important and my parrot learns them all. He seemed to particularly like the old Nextel walkie-talkie style phone, with its beeps to initiate conversation, a lower tone to indicate that it hadn’t gone through and even my typical responses to my coworkers. The microwave oven often involves him getting a tidbit or two and he’ll start beeping if I go close to it. And of course when he works his way through his repertoire I get to hear it all.

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