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What is bleeping beeping me?


Jim Mullen


Sunday, April 21, 2019

The refrigerator beeps if I accidentally leave the door open, which I do a lot, but it's a different beep than the one the dishwasher makes to tell me it has finished putting spots on my glasses.

Do I really have to know when the dishwasher is finished with its spotting cycle? Besides, when the dishwasher beeps, I always think it's my phone telling me I have a new message. I keep forgetting my message alert is a chime, not a beep. The phone is chiming right now. It's my credit card company messaging me to tell me my credit card statement is now ready for viewing. It's odd that it will chime for that message, but it didn't make a sound when Charlie texted "Meet us at the golf course at 1." I didn't get that message until 3.

The phone makes another beep (or maybe it's a trill or a swoosh or a chord or a crystal arpeggio) if I get a notification that there is a "Today Only!" sale at a store that only sells things on clearance — all the time. The name of the store is something like "Stuff On Sale All the Time." They really don't have to send anyone any alerts.

My stupid smartwatch beeped last night at 11:30 to tell me that if I would take a brisk half-hour run, I would meet my exercise goal for the day. It's not smart enough to beep when the battery needs charging; it just dies without saying a word. It doesn't beep at the airport to tell me I'm in a different time zone now and that I don't have two hours and 10 minutes to make my connection, but rather, only 10 minutes. It will not automatically update to the new time zone, no matter how many times I set it to do just that.

It does, however, tap me on the wrist every now and then to remind me that it is time to breathe. I don't know what it thinks I've been doing all day, but breathing has been a large part of it.

I have the little gadget on my keychain that will let me find my keys if I ever lose them. It beeps every time I touch my key ring. The day I actually do lose my keys, I have a feeling that the device's battery will be dead from all the unnecessary beeping.

My car beeps at me when I drift into oncoming traffic or start backing up into to something or someone, and no doubt countless lives have been saved, including my own. That doesn't mean it's not annoying. It's as if they invented a robo-backseat driver. If it ever says "No, your other left," I'll just hit the accelerator and drive into a bridge abutment.

Hold on, my watch just pulsed to remind me to breathe. And the washing machine just coughed to tell me that it's finished shredding my underwear.

My desktop computer beeps and chimes and trills, too. It just chirped to tell me it's the birthday of a person I barely know. I don't know how to tell it to stop doing that. And if I ever figure out how to make it stop, it will also stop reminding me of the birthdays of people I do care about.

A lot of people customize the alerts on their phones — and I have, too — but I still can't remember what a chime means, as opposed to a trill, as opposed to dripping water, as opposed to waves hitting the shore. If the phone is so smart, why can't it just say, "Answer the phone, idiot!" when a call comes through? If they can teach it to trill, why can't they teach it to say, "You have a new text message"?

While they're at it, they should program the dishwasher to say, "I'm finished with putting a soapy film on your dishes you'll never get off."

Jim Mullen is the author of It Takes a Village Idiot: A Memoir of Life After the City. His column, The Village Idiot, takes a look at the curiosities of American life.


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