What is TeenBuzz (or Mosquito Ringtone)
Teen Buzz (also known as Mosquitotone or Zumbitone) is a popular ringtone that was hijacked from a technology that was originally used to repel loitering teenagers from shops in the United Kingdom. Inventor Howard Stapleton developed the "Mosquito device" for Compound Security Systems.
This device emits a modulated 17 kHz sound that proves to be a great annoyance to teenagers or anyone younger, but leaves most over thirty years of age unaffected. This is due to presbycusis, a normal loss of acute hearing that occurs with advancing age.
TeenBuzz mosquito ringtone was developed using the same technology, but as a constant 17 kHz high frequency ringtone. It is primarily used in the classroom, allowing students to be alerted of incoming text messages on their mobile phones without the knowledge of their teachers.
The company that developed the device said that they were impressed and admits to the idea being humorous, although they considered it may be an infringement on their intellectual property rights. They developed their own ringtone which they sold as the authentic mosquito tone.
The Mosquito is a product made to drive away teenagers from no-loitering zones. Because the ability to hear high frequencies deteriorates with age (a phenomenon known as presbycusis), the Mosquito works by emitting high-frequency tones at approximately 17.4 kHz.
According to Welsh inventor, Ig Nobel Prize winner for Peace Howard Stapleton, the tones can only reliably be heard by people younger than 20 and almost never heard by people older than 30.
Short exposure has very little effect for someone entering a store where the device is externally installed, but the sound becomes very annoying for those wishing to be around the immediate area for longer than 10 minutes. Although it will not force people to leave the area, due to a limit on volume (75 dB) it is effective at deterring random loitering.
The Mosquito was originally tested at one location in Newport, South Wales, where it was successful in reducing the number of teenagers loitering near a grocery store. In spite of this, some adults and seniors were still able to hear the Mosquito. It has not been tested by hearing experts, however the tones are broadcast at 75 decibels, so they fall within the government's auditory-safety limits. The Mosquito was released into the mainstream market in 2006.
A video demo of the mosquito ringtone
Another video demo of the mosquito ringtone - this time used as a SOS morse code
Presbycusis is the loss of hearing that gradually occurs in most individuals as they grow older. Hearing loss is a common disorder associated with aging. About 30-35 percent of adults between the ages of 65 and 75 years have a hearing loss. It is estimated that 40-50 percent of people 75 and older have a hearing loss.
The loss associated with presbycusis is usually greater for high-pitched sounds. For example, it may be difficult for someone to hear the nearby chirping of a bird or the ringing of a telephone. However, the same person may be able to hear clearly the low-pitched sound of a truck rumbling down the street.
There are many causes of presbycusis. Most commonly it arises from changes in the inner ear of a person as he or she ages, but presbycusis can also result from changes in the middle ear or from complex changes along the nerve pathways leading to the brain. Presbycusis most often occurs in both ears, affecting them equally. Because the process of loss is gradual, people who have presbycusis may not realize that their hearing is diminishing.
Visit National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders for more information about Presbycusis
Wikipedia, New York Times, BBC, Washington Post