The mosquito ringtone, also known as Teen Buzz, is a type of ringtone that is only heard by teenagers or typically of people less than 25 years old. It is an adaptation of the technology used by the mosquito alarm, which is an electronic device that emits an extremely high frequency meant to annoy teenagers. Using this ringtone allows teenagers to receive calls and SMS messages while in school without their teachers knowing it. The mosquito ringtone is set as the same pitch as the mosquito alarm, which is at 17,800 hertz.
The Science behind the Technology
The technology takes advantage of the phenomenon called presbycusis. It is an age related hearing loss that often presents itself as an inability to hear high frequency sounds as a man or woman ages.
Men and women can hear pitches ranging as low as 20 hertz to as high as 20,000 hertz at birth. With age and exposure to loud noises, they eventually lose the ability to hear some of the high frequencies.
The Mosquito Alarm
The mosquito ringtone works the same way as the mosquito alarm. It is a commercially sold electronic alarm developed by a Welsh security company, the Compound Security Systems. The device gives off an ultrasonic sound that mimics a mosquito buzz at approximately 17.4 kHz at 85dB.
It was created by Howard Stapleton in 2005 and marketed as a safety and security tool. Its primary aim is to prevent youth nuisance and anti-social behavior, particularly gang loitering, which has been associated with vandalism, graffiti, drug abuse and distribution, and violence.
The device is primarily sold to shops and businesses to keep teenagers from loitering near their premises. The sound it emits is meant to irritate them, keeping them away. However, it does not keep its adult clients and customers away as the sound is typically unheard by adults.
The mosquito alarm is extremely popular in the United Kingdom, with some 3,500 units in use by the police and shopkeepers. It is also being sold in France, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, and the United States.
The mosquito alarm won the IG Nobel Award for peace in 2006. The IG Nobel Prizes are a spoof of the Nobel Prizes arranged by the Scientific Humor Magazine Annals of Improbable Research. The awardees of the IG Nobel Prize are best characterized as “ideas that first make people laugh, and then make them think”.
Mosquito Ringtone Effectiveness
Cell phone policies in most of the school districts in the United States allow teachers to confiscate cell phones when they are used or displayed on school grounds. Using a ringtone that an adult is deaf to allows the students to use their phones even in school.
However, most teachers question its effectiveness in circumventing these cell phone policies. Teachers purport that even though adults may not hear the phones ring, they would still see the students checking for SMS messages or answering the call. It would take incredible stealth for a student to use his or her cell phone in school grounds.
Another criticism that the mosquito ringtone had received is that not all adults are deaf to it. Moreover, its pitch at 17 kHz can be made more audible if a tone at a different frequency, such as at 22 kHz, were broadcasted constantly. The interference of the two inaudible frequencies will create acoustic beats in an audible frequency.