Is The "Beep" Noise Pollution?

It is rare these days that you can be somewhere without noise pollution intruding on some level. Many natural noises may be welcome; a dawn chorus or waves breaking on the beach, but when it comes to man-made decibels it’s a different matter.

Never mind the sounds of cars, ring tones and other noises that we take for granted, have you ever noticed how utterly surrounded we are by the humble “beep”? From reversing vehicles to supermarket checkouts, they punctuate our daily lives.

Where did the “beep” come from?

The word “beep” isn’t very old either. The expression of “beep-beep” for a car horn only goes back to 1929, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Once upon a time, bells and sirens were announcements that something fairly major was happening but the modern beep is a completely different beast. They still predominantly warn or announce something but it might be as mundane as the doors on a train opening.

The rise of the “beep”

Some of the least annoying beeps are designedly so. For instance, the beep that alerts you to the central locking having been activated. Acoustic specialists around the world make their living from trying to match the right beep to a product or brand and this applies to the beeps made by domestic appliances, cash machines, computers and supermarket checkout tills.

Ever since they started to proliferate in the 1980s, reversing alarms – most typically used in goods vehicles – were a steadily growing source of complaints, peaking in the late 1990s. They add up to that soundscape of noise pollution and annoyance that challenges the patience of millions. Researchers are now trying to come up with a single tone alternative that may, for example, sound like a crashing wave but released in short staccato bursts.

There are other beeps that you will hear thousands of times, probably without noticing. Text beeps and the supermarket checkout beep. With the advent of the barcode scanner has come a beep for every purchase, equating to millions of beeps every day.

However, it is the beeps from mobile telephones that perhaps generate the most consistent resentment, especially on crowded trains or during a night out to the theatre. The beeping even continues in the sanctity of our own homes. Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are a great source of beeps, as well as low battery beeps on handhelds, microwaves, timers … the list goes on.

Will we ever be free from the “beep”

So prolific are beeps now in modern life that some places, including airports and airlines, are actually cutting down. “Our announcements are certainly targeted,” a spokesperson for London Stansted Airport says. “We make fewer announcements in the main terminal building. We do of course still make certain ones such as security announcements.”

So the beep, in one form or another, looks set to stay with us for years if not decades to come. However, if you want some beep-free solitude, head out to the countryside. Remember to leave your phone at home and avoid any reversing tractors.

Do you want to measure just how loud your “beeps” are? Choose from our Optimus Range of Sound Level Meters for accurate monitoring of all noise pollution. You can also follow Cirrus Research plc on Twitter @cirrusresearch for all the latest Noise News and developments from The Noise Experts.

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