Techno life of today bringing on more cases of ringxiety
Six minutes 39 seconds into the Richard Thompson song “Calvary Cross,” Mike
Pelusi, a music reviewer in Philadelphia, will almost invariably check his
Minka Wiltz, an actress in Atlanta, has tried to answer her phone to the
thrrrrup, thrrrrup, thrrrrup of a truck bouncing down a pothole-pocked street.
Others say they thought they heard phones ring while taking a shower, using a
blow-dryer or watching commercials.
What they are hearing is a barely discernable sound — perhaps chimes, a faint
trill or an electronic bleat — that they mistake for the ringtone of their
cellphone, which isn’t ringing. This audio illusion — called phantom phone rings
or, more whimsically, ringxiety or fauxcellarm — has emerged recently as an
Internet discussion topic and has become a new reason for people to either
bemoan the techno-saturation of modern life or question their sanity.
Some sound experts believe that because cellphones have become a fifth limb for
many, people now live in a constant state of phone vigilance, and hearing sounds
that seem like a telephone’s ring can send an expectant brain into action.
“My experience has been hearing just a few notes that are similar to my phone’s
ring, my brain will fill in the rest,” said David Laramie, a doctoral student at
the Los Angeles campus of the California School of Professional Psychology, who
is writing his dissertation about the effect of cellphones on behavior.
He plans to send questionnaires this summer to earn when and how often phantom
rings happen and who is most likely to experience them. A few notes in the
background of a television commercial can fool him, he said. Other times the
culprit will be the sound effects in a song on the radio.
“Another place I hear it is running water, so I sometimes hear it while I’m
shaving,” Laramie said.
Phantom rings are a “psycho-acoustic phenomenon” related to the way the human
brain interprets sound, said Rob Nokes, president of Sound Dogs, a sound effects
company in California.
The ear gives unequal weights to certain frequencies, making it particularly
sensitive to sounds in the range of 1,000 to 6,000 hertz, scientists say. Babies
cry in this range, for example, and the familiar “brrring, brrring” ringtone
hits this sweet spot, too. (Simple ringtones are more likely to produce phantom
rings than popular music used as a ringtone.)
“Your brain is conditioned to respond to a phone ring just as it is to a baby
crying,” Nokes said.
Why people seem to be hearing phantom rings more often now is another question.
The answers range from the paranoid to the vast exposure to cellphones in
people’s lives — there were 207 million wireless subscribers nationwide at the
end of 2005, a nearly sevenfold increase in just a decade, according to the
Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association.
On blogs, some cellphone users wonder if an ominous agenda is at work when a
phantom ring is triggered by a television or radio broadcast. A writer posting
as Koan on forumgarden.com said that at first, songs played on the radio
triggered a phantom ring. “Thing is, the high-pitched sounds, although a lot
fainter, are still present during announcements now,” Koan wrote. “What is this?
Is it subliminal advertising or something else?”
Peter Arnell, the chief creative officer of the Arnell Group in New York and a
major force in the marketing business, said that theory might not be far off the