Teen Buzz

There is a cell phone ring tone out there that can be heard only by teens and children, allowing them to receive text messages in situations when they are supposed to have their cell phones turned off, primarily at school. It is known by many as “Teen Buzz.”
It’s no urban myth or secret technology. Instead, it takes advantage of a naturally occurring condition called presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss. This generally begins to occur in people around 20 and affects their ability to hear higher frequencies (in the 18-20 kilohertz range). Such a small loss of hearing may be impossible to notice, although it may become worse as the person ages. However, this magic point of its onset is what makes it so attractive to teens. They can literally hear something adults can’t.

The causes for presbycusis can be anything from cumulative exposure to the loud noises of day-to-day life, physical conditions and abnormalities of the inner ear, and even as a side effect of some medications. But usually it’s just another result of getting older.

The origins of Teen Buzz started began in the U.K. where a security company developed a product called The Mosquito which was designed to keep teens from loitering around businesses. The high-frequency sound was annoying enough to drive them off without bothering the adults. But it wasn’t long before teens took advantage of this technology for their own benefit.

When I first heard about this I wondered if it was just another urban legend like the “brown note” (a note played at such a low frequency that it can cause listeners to lose bowel control), or a random anomaly such as the ability to sing a note high enough to break glass. My 15-year old son swore to me it was true, so I downloaded it myself (available from Cingular as the “Cricket” tone). When my phone rang using that ring tone I couldn’t hear it and he could. I also played it from a number of sources online using my computer with the speakers set to their loudest and I still couldn’t hear it, yet he could. He described it as “television static” more than a cricket. I heard absolutely nothing.

Is it a threat to schools or the beginning of a revolution? Not really. If kids want to receive text messages and secret calls, they will find a way (having the phone on vibrate being the most obvious). The idea of having the ability to experience something only a youth can may be more of a draw than making sure they get that all-important text message.

Ironically, one of the main reasons people begin to lose their hearing is exposure to loud noises, an activity most teens love to indulge in, bringing themselves closer all the time to reaching that initial point of hearing loss. The day they can no longer hear the Teen Buzz may be yet another rite of passage in our high-tech age.

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