Techno life of today bringing on more cases of ringxiety
By BRENDA GOODMAN
Six minutes 39 seconds into the
Richard Thompson song “Calvary Cross,” Mike Pelusi, a music reviewer in
Philadelphia, will almost invariably check his cellphone.
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.