From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/12/technology/12ring.html

user: re_print / pass: re_print

“The cellphone ring tone Miss Musorofiti heard was the offshoot of an
invention called the Mosquito, developed last year by a Welsh security
company to annoy teenagers and gratify adults, not the other way
around.

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.

“It’s the most common sensory abnormality in the world,” said Dr. Rick
A. Friedman, an ear surgeon and research scientist at the House Ear
Institute in Los Angeles.

But in a bit of techno-jujitsu, someone – a person unknown at this
time, but probably not someone with presbycusis – realized that the
Mosquito, which uses this common adult abnormality to adults’
advantage, could be turned against them.

The Mosquito noise was reinvented as a ring tone.”

AUDIO
http://graphics.nytimes.com/packages/audio/nyregion/20060610_RINGTONE.mp3

GRAPHIC
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2006/06/12/nyregion/12ring-graphic.gif

By PAUL VITELLO
Published: June 12, 2006

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.

David Herzka, a freshman at Roslyn High School on Long Island, shared
the ring tone with friends.

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.

She heard that, Miss Musorofiti said. “Now turn it off,” she said.

The cellphone ring tone Miss Musorofiti heard was the offshoot of an
invention called the Mosquito, developed last year by a Welsh security
company to annoy teenagers and gratify adults, not the other way
around.

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.

“It’s the most common sensory abnormality in the world,” said Dr. Rick
A. Friedman, an ear surgeon and research scientist at the House Ear
Institute in Los Angeles.

But in a bit of techno-jujitsu, someone – a person unknown at this
time, but probably not someone with presbycusis – realized that the
Mosquito, which uses this common adult abnormality to adults’
advantage, could be turned against them.

The Mosquito noise was reinvented as a ring tone.

“Our high-frequency buzzer was copied. It is not exactly what we
developed, but it’s a pretty good imitation,” said Simon Morris,
marketing director for Compound Security, the company behind the
Mosquito. “You’ve got to give the kids credit for ingenuity.”

British newspapers described the first use of the high-frequency ring
tone last month in some schools in Wales, where Compound Security’s
Mosquito device was introduced as a “yob-buster,” a reference to the
hooligans it was meant to disperse.

Since then, Mr. Morris said his company has received so much attention
– none of it profit-making because the ring tone was in effect
pirated – that he and his partner, Howard Stapleton, the inventor,
decided to start selling a ring tone of their own. It is called
Mosquitotone, and it is now advertised as “the authentic Mosquito ring
tone.”

David Herzka, a Roslyn High School freshman, said he researched the
British phenomenon a few weeks ago on the Web, and managed to upload a
version of the high-pitched sound into his cellphone.

He transferred the ring tone to the cellphones of two of his friends at
a birthday party on June 3. Two days later, he said, about five
students at school were using it, and by Tuesday the number was a
couple of dozen.

“I just made it for my friends. I don’t use a cellphone during class at
school,” he said.

How, David was asked, did he think this new device would alter the
balance of power between adults and teenagers? Or did he suppose it was
a passing fad?

“Well, probably it is,” said David, who added after a moment’s thought,
“And if not, I guess the school will just have to hire a lot of young
teachers.”