Ring-A-Ding What?

Sound wave with an ear
Some things never change. I'll bet when Beethoven was a kid, his father used to say, "I've got nothing against the new music, but do you have to play it so loud?" And I'm sure ever since Adam and Eve, the most common words exchanged between husbands and wives have been, "What? I can't hear you."

People are always perplexed that what seems like a perfectly reasonable volume to them is either inaudible or thunderous torture for someone else. Finally, there is some scientific research to explain why this is so.

Kids can hear high-pitched noises that adults can't hear. According to the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles, most adults' ability to hear high frequency noises disappears in "early middle age." (Once again, Mother Nature is looking out for us, because it's also at "early middle age" that we don't want to hear people shrilly asking us things like, "Have you gained weight?")

A Welsh security company decided to put this difference in hearing ability to use. They devised a high-pitched noise that would annoy teenagers, but that adults couldn't hear. The purpose of this devious invention — called the Mosquito — was to make would-be loitering kids disperse from storefronts while not discouraging adults from shopping there. It doesn't seem like a very nice invention to me.

I guess it didn't seem very nice to some technologically-minded kids, either. Some clever young person turned this invention on its ear, and made it something that would appeal to kids: phones that could ring without alerting parents or other adults — like teachers. They took the sound that adults can't hear and made it a cell phone ring tone. It's bad enough that kids can talk so softly we can't eavesdrop on them. Now they can receive calls right in front of us without our knowing.

There is some other sound research that might also have some booming consequences. A study presented at this month's meeting of the Acoustical Society of America revealed some interesting results. First, non-Hispanic white people, in general, hear worse than other groups. However, I don't think this explains, why, historically, people of color have had such a hard time being heard by white people.

Second, women, in general, hear better than men. So, if you're the kind of man who mumbles under his breath, stop being shocked when the woman you love calls out, "I heard that!" On the other hand, I'm sure there are many women who are frustrated because whenever they ask their man why he didn't do something, he always seems to answer, "I never heard you ask me to do that." Now it turns out that he might be telling the truth. His hearing just isn't as good as yours. Maybe he really can't hear the baby crying when you do. Maybe.

This might be the greatest legitimate excuse since scientists discovered there is a biological reason why some women tell a story in 20 minutes that would take some men 30 seconds to tell. So, just as women have been able to tell men, "Hey, sit there and listen. I'm not rambling. My brain works differently from yours," men can now say to women, "I wasn't ignoring you. My hearing's different from yours."

Of course, all of these things may occur simultaneously. A woman might have gone into great detail about something that happened during her day only to have her husband ask, "Huh? Were you talking to me?" And then, right when she's about to yell at him at a level he can definitely hear, their teenager rushes into the room, screaming, "I'll get it." And both parents will turn to him saying, "You'll get what?"

Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover, and without moving his lips.

By Lloyd Garver