17
Feb
2008

Sonic devices are not the way to control our youth

Am forwarding you Matt Rudd's amusing but sobering article on testing the "mosquito." It begs the question: if it is fully accepted that kids are acutely aware and feel seriously discomfited by these frequencies-- in a range which most adults cannot even hear--why then can it not be accepted that some of us can hear and are equally discomfited by microwave frequencies. It is also worth noting while reading his article that he found a few older adults who also retained what is generally consideed to be a young person's capacity to hear these frequencies.


Imelda, Cork



The Sunday Times
February 17, 2008

Sonic devices are not the way to control our youth

Fed up with antisocial yoof, our correspondent tests the Mosquito, the sonic device designed to send teenagers packing, and is shocked by the results

Matt Rudd

The hoodie came in for a lot of stick last week. Stabbings, shootings, alcopop orgies, children forced to arm themselves just to get to and from school in one piece, liver transplants at the age of 14. This, quite clearly, is a nation at war with its yoof.

But, more important, the whole issue has forced something of a marital dispute between my beloved and me, in Valentine’s week, to boot. You see, we were on the train the other day and a hoodie sat next to us. He put his feet on the seat and switched on his MP3 player at a volume that made it impossible for other people in the carriage to converse.

I did what I usually do: I became incensed and suggested we move carriage. My beloved said if I had a problem I should tell the hoodie. I explained that I didn’t want to get stabbed and I’d rather be a grumpy coward than a dead hero. She said if everyone behaved like me, that was just like Germany in the 1930s. I said I didn’t care. She said fine, she would tell him herself. I explained that I would still get stabbed because the hoodie always stabs the bloke (unless, of course, it’s a female hoodie).

She said, “Tough,” and told the hoodie to get his feet down and shut up. He apologised politely and desisted. Now beloved and I aren’t talking because she thinks I’m pathetic and I think she rashly endangered my life.

Related Links Mosquito does the job very nicely Ultrasonic anti-teen device sparks row So when Sir Al Aynsley-Green, children’s commissioner for England, launched a campaign to ban the Mosquito, a device that repels teenagers by emitting a high-pitched siren that only young people can hear, I thought he was mad. Given that society is going to hell in a cider-fuelled handcart, a nonconfrontational way to control unruly yobs sounds like genius. So I decided to borrow a Mosquito from the inventor to prove how good/harmless it is.

When the Mosquito arrived, I plugged it in under my desk but nothing happened. Everyone just kept on working because my immediate colleagues are significantly older than 25, the age beyond which most people lose the ability to hear such high frequencies. There’s no light to indicate that it’s working and I couldn’t hear anything either, so I unplugged it and walked over to the picture desk. They have young people over there.

I plugged it in again and a 22-year-old three desks away started twitching a bit, as if she had a flea or a mosquito in her ear. After about a minute she swivelled around, looking puzzled. You could see what she was thinking: “No one else seems to be bothered by that high-pitched siren. Is it just me? Am I going mad?”

Then a 19-year-old from the post room sauntered past, all hoodie-like, and immediately ducked for cover – as if he’d just come under fire. “What the f***?” Again, because no one else seemed to be hearing anything, he tried to saunter on. Typical teenager. But then he saw the puzzled girl and she saw him. Finally both of them noticed me holding a grey box, and the penny dropped.

Describing a “horrible pulsing sensation” they were both astonished that no one else could hear it. The 19-year-old begged, literally, for me to turn it off.

Out in the street I zapped more youths. Each followed a similar process: saunter, saunter, twitch, twitch, half-saunter, stop, glance around, wiggle finger in ear, try ducking, glance around a bit more, notice me with Mosquito, beg me to switch it off.

It is a clever invention. Thanks to presbycusis or age-related hearing loss, I was safe but teenagers and twentysomethings were diving for cover. The manufacturer says very few people over the age of 25 will be able to hear the Mosquito but I got my first senior victim when a 37-year-old subeditor came and asked me to desist because he couldn’t concentrate. Then the editor of this section, youthful in looks but a decade beyond 25, demanded I switch it off because it hurt. So I did.

At 85 decibels, the Mosquito is right on the limit for a noise permitted in the workplace. Howard Stapleton, who invented it, points out that this limit is only for long periods of time – up to eight hours – and that his gizmo is designed to be used for only up to 20 minutes in populated areas. But it is clear from my zapping that some people find it immediately distressing.

Stapleton has spent the week mounting a furious defence of the gadget, which he invented after his daughter was scared off by a gang from buying milk at her local shop. He has received support from the government, the police and a nation of fed-up shopkeepers. But now he feels he may have created a monster. “I never wanted to turn Britain into a place that kids can’t go. That puts the fear of God into me.”

The problem, as he explains it, is that despite the device being sent out with an automatic 20-minute switch-off, it’s easy to alter so that it never cuts out. This means the Mosquito can be left on all the time, rather than being deployed only when a crowd of teenagers are throwing bricks through a supermarket window. Listen to James Hewwitt from Barnsley: “I am at school, I am a good person with 100% attendance and targeted to get 13 BA*s in my GCSEs. I have to catch the bus home every day. Unfortunately someone decided it was a good idea to put one of these things inside the bus terminal and now I am forced to stand daily for almost 30 minutes listening to my migraine forming. This thing is incredibly loud and incredibly painful to me, and I do karate so it’s not like I can’t take getting punched; but this buzzing is worse than that.”

In my local pub, Psalms the landlord was willing, purely on scientific grounds, for his clientele to be Mosquitoed. Most of them continued drinking, none the wiser, but Chris-tina, 28, had to leave. Psalms himself could hear it despite his 31 years. Storm, one year old, went absolutely crazy, started jumping up on me, running around in circles, whimpering a bit. Call the RSPCA, not the NSPCC . . . Storm is a dog (even though dogs aren’t supposed to hear it).

The next day I decided not to try the Mosquito on my two-year-old son. Even though Stapleton used his own children to come up with the irritating two-tone pulse, even though audiologists have told him it can’t cause any harm, it just felt cruel. I zapped a few schoolkids out of the window instead – and they noticed immediately, not “within a few minutes” as the Mosquito marketing information suggests. I felt as bad as I did when I fired airgun pellets at rabbits back when I was a hoodie.

Stapleton might object furiously to the rights group Liberty’s labelling of it as “a sonic weapon”, but in the wrong hands I’m not so sure. Because most parents can’t hear Mosquitos there is a very real risk that no one will understand why a toddler is crying because no one notices one switched to permanent outside the shop beneath the toddler’s bedroom.

Stapleton has come up with a solution. In less than eight weeks he will have a noise recorder available to local councils to stick up next to any Mosquitos suspected of misuse. “Liberty can have one at cost as well if they want,” he says. “It will provide them all the evidence they need for a prosecution under environmental law.” This is an inventor’s response to an inventor’s problem.

But I put the Mosquito back in its box with a new perspective on the yoof issue. However bad they may be, controlling our teenagers with sonic “weapons” is not the answer. “Even Orwell couldn’t have thought this up,” says pub philosopher Tom, 41, fiddling with the device. He’s right. I’m just not quite ready to hug a hoodie.



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