Tuesday, February 20, 2024

It’s a Beeping Problem


Mick Jagger says “When you call my name, salivate like Pavlov’s dog.”  He could have said “When the toaster pings…

The relentless beep-beep-beeping of electrical appliances has become the soundtrack of our daily lives. And it’s not that these notes are soft and soothing; they seem designed to strike deep in your central cortex. The sound is not even rhythmic, more like an overeager nine-year-old banging away at the triangle in the annual school concert. And, honestly, we all know they were always the least talented.

From microwaves to washing machines and toasters to seat belts, machines are all hard coded to create the worst kind of interruptions. Machines are not sentient (yet, so they say) but, somehow, they’ve gained a capability which engenders blind rage in plain ordinary householders. These buzzers, pings and beeps cannot be turned off. Call customer service and they tell you: “It can’t be done, Mr. Pavlov. It is considered a feature, not a bug.”

The sound of a bell triggered salivation in Pavlov's dogs and, in a direct correlation, the ping, beep, buzz of an appliance signals that – somewhere somehow – you’ve screwed up. Forget to remove the laundry: Buzz. Left your tea in the microwave: Ping. Sitting in an exit row: Beep! Who’s really in charge? The machines have undergone their own bizarre form of behavioral training and we are running around the house all day chasing beeps.

Why does the microwave feel compelled to announce its victory so loudly? Perhaps it believes that, without fanfare, we mere mortals would be unable to muster the responsibility or recall necessary to retrieve our leftovers. Every laundry cycle is punctuated with a series of beeps even less meaningful than those from the toaster. Maybe they’re communicating with each other?

Anyway, perhaps there's a deeper lesson to be gleaned from the incessant beeping of our household appliances. Just as Pavlov's dogs learned to associate the sound of a bell with the promise of food, we too have formed an attachment to the beeps that punctuate our daily routines. They serve as markers of progress, reminders of tasks completed and signals of impending action. In a world filled with chaos and uncertainty, the predictable rhythm of electronic beeps provides a sense of order and control, however fleeting it may be.

Nooo!!! That paragraph was written by the chat machine. They’re conspiring!  Make it stop!

I often wonder if the engineers and designers of these machines actually use them themselves. Perhaps they’re all washing their clothes down the river and making toast on a fire. It cannot be that they are not irritated as all fuck by the incessant buzz, ping, tings just like us ordinary folk. It’s enough to endure the quirks and idiosyncrasies of modern living without these ridiculous “emergency” signals making us salivate like a dog. Please make it stop.

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