Digital World: Getting the buzz

Mobile madness - incredibly annoying ringtones for teens and adults; creating your own ringtone from CD to cellphone.

cell phone 88 (photo credit: )
cell phone 88
(photo credit: )
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I recall some bit of hippie wisdom about "people over 30." Something about how kids aren't supposed trust them, or something like that. I wish I could remember, but when you get to be my age, things get sort of foggy. But now there's proof you can't trust people over 30 - or maybe even 25! It turns out that there is a solid line separating the youth and adult races - the two can communicate and maybe even form friendships, but there is no question that kids and adults operate on different frequencies. Literally. Here's the latest teen scam where kids pull one over on adults: a cell phone ringtone that can be heard only by the junior set, used by youngsters to get around classroom regulations against having cell phones in class. Oh, the youth of today. Actually, the evolution of the Mosquito Tone saga is a case of just desserts, considering that the thing was invented by adults to annoy unruly kids. The story goes back to last year, when a British inventor came up with a security device designed to keep teenagers from congregating in malls, taking up space and driving away the money-spending customers. The product, called the Mosquito, took advantage of a singularity that most adults (and kids) are not aware of: Certain high-frequency tones are apparently undetectable to the human ear after a certain age. Starting at about 20, scientists say, the human ear loses its ability to hear tones in the highest human-range frequencies (18-20 khz), and the older you get, the harder it is to detect these sounds. The Mosquito emits a 17 khz tone that is supposed to emulate the buzzing of a mosquito - but about 10 times more annoying. This sound, beamed at kids congregating in a section of the mall, would encourage them to move on, the theory goes. The inventor of the device sells the Mosquito system on his Web site (, and says that after about a minute or so, kids go crazy and move on, and that "field trails also suggest that after several uses, the groups of children/teenagers tend not to loiter in the areas covered by the Mosquito, even when it is not turned on." He suggests, by the way, that shopkeepers order a special metal cage to protect the system, "recommended where the unit is mounted in positions where people have easy access to it." Probably a good idea. But leave it to the kids to turn the tables. Apparently some teens in Birmingham (the inventor's hometown) got wind of what the company was doing, and decided to appropriate it for their own use: They created a cell phone ringtone called "Teen Buzz," which has caught on like wildfire, first in the UK, and emigrating to the US over the past couple of weeks. With the tone, kids can keep their cell phones on in class to receive text messages, the bane of many teachers, who demand that cell phones be turned off in class. And, not one to miss an opportunity, the inventor of the original device made his own ringtone, which he sells via his Web site ("the official Mozzy tone"). Does it work? You bet! I can't hear it, and I bet you can't (check out this sample at My kids (all under 16), can, while several young adults (21, 23 and 24) said they could hear it "faintly." Listening really closely to some of the free download versions available (i.e. putting my ear right up to the computer speaker), I could hear something - and that Birmingham fellow definitely has the right idea, using the tone to annoy and drive away kids. Playing with the tone in Audacity, the sound manipulation program, I was able to lower the frequency some until I could hear it loud and clear. Just imagining what it sounds like at a high frequency is enough to give me a headache. If you want to check out the tone for yourself, try one of these free downloads:, or Personally, I don't think it's fair that kids have all the fun, creating annoying ringtones to fool adults. The inventor of the Mosquito said in an interview ( that kids found his invention even more annoying than other anti-teen crowd control devices, such as stereos blaring out endless loops of Barry Manilow. Fair's fair, and if your kids are going to annoy you with their secret ringtone, you should be able to annoy them with some Manilow, or even some Englebert Humperdinck. If you've got a mellow, easy listening CD, you're halfway there: download Coolringer, a free, no strings attached program to convert the file into a ringtone suitable for upload to your cell phone. Coolringer ( will take any MP3 or wav file and turn it into a ringtone suitable for upload to your phone via data cable, infrared, bluetooth, SMS or WAP connection. The program "intelligently" looks for the snippet it figures you most probably want (in pop songs it seems to focus on the chorus; for instrumentals, it converts from the beginning of the file), and you can specify the length of the tone (standard length is 30 seconds). Of course, the program is only for personal use, and "is supported by banner ads that may be displayed during creation of the tones" (it works without requiring an Internet connection, though, and other than a promo for the program's site, I didn't see any ads). What if you don't have cables, infrared, or Bluetooth on your phone? Is there any way to upload the tone? Indeed there is: At, you'll find a very cool service where you can upload files, which automatically get transferred to a site accessible by WAP browsers; you turn on your phone's WAP connection, surf to the site, and download your file to your phone. The site doesn't charge money for this service, but the file does end up on a public site, accessible to anyone (you can also download anyone else's files, if you dare). You can upload not only ringtones, but also graphics, games, themes - even video (there is a size limit on each type of file). Coolringer may not be able to prevent kids from getting past regulations regarding cell phones, but it can make sure you have the last laugh when it comes to dictating the tones of cell phones in your household.