Of all the noises that my children will not understand, the one that is nearest to my heart is not from a song or a television show or a jingle. It’s the sound of a modem connecting with another modem across the repurposed telephone infrastructure. It was the noise of being part of the beginning of the Internet.
I heard that sound again this week on Brendan Chillcut’s simple and wondrous site: The Museum of Endangered Sounds. It takes technological objects and lets you relive the noises they made: Tetris, the Windows 95 startup chime, that Nokia ringtone, television static. The site archives not just the intentional sounds — ringtones, etc — but the incidental ones, like the mechanical noise a VHS tape made when it entered the VCR or the way a portable CD player sounded when it skipped. If you grew up at a certain time, these sounds are like technoaural nostalgia whippets. One minute, you’re browsing the Internet in 2012, the next you’re on a bus headed up I-5 to an 8th grade football game against Castle Rock in 1995.
The noises our technologies make, as much as any music, are the soundtrack to an era.Soundscapes are not static; completely new sets of frequencies arrive, old things go. […]
When I think of 2012, I will think of the overworked fan of my laptop and the ding of getting a text message on my iPhone. I will think of the beep of the FastTrak in my car as it debits my credit card so I can pass through a toll onto the Golden Gate Bridge. I will think of Siri’s uncanny valley voice.
But to me, all of those sounds — as symbols of the era in which I’ve come up — remain secondary to the hissing and crackling of the modem handshake.