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Does silence kill kids?

When Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, he probably didn't expect the rise of the cellphones we've been seeing over the last 20 years. At first, there were C-net phone too huge to carry, but mobile still, as they communicated wireless. Then, devices became smaller, networks faster and ubiquitous, and today, the number of cellphones sold worldwide has exceeded the population.

Much like everything else, "it used to be better back then". When phone calls were still ridiculously expensive, people were able to enjoy their peace and life progressed slow for everyone to think enough, not do or say without engaging their brains. Then, when the first cellphones stuffed people's pockets, they did their job pretty much from the start: you could make phone calls. Some genius discovered SMS as a splendid tool to rip off customers, so phones grew pager abilities, but other than that, they just worked; I remember my first phone, which didn't break in years.

Obviously, if you're a phone manufacturer, you don't like that, because once you sell a phone that works, the customer won't come back to give more monies in ten years. Clever as you are, you devised two schemes to ensure your cash flow: make phones more brittle and crap, so that they break within a year, at most two; and drag ever younger people into the debt trap. For the truly stupid, sites and services offer ring tones and games and what not, and the lesser challenged you keep close by the continuous addition of new features that noone needs.

So these days, almost every phone can play music files, which is mighty convenient to spice up your work commute with some tunes, but our youngsters are overburdened by that, it seems.

I almost soiled myself laughing at a group of five Italians at Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires, who were sitting around waiting for a bus, every one of them ear plugged and grooving to the beats (you know how dorky it looks when people silently sing along rap songs?). That's not the funny part. The funny part is that every minute, one of them would say something, which would cause the others to unplug one ear, and form their lips to bleat "what" (making sure to add just a little bit extra of the tone of general disinterest, which is "cool"). This elicited one of two responses: either the original speaker would say "oh, nothing" and everyone nodded, or he'd repeat his wisdom, causing everyone to laugh and nod… before in both cases they replugged and returned to luff themselves. I wonder how they made it to the airport themselves, and why they travel as a group.

Worse than that, however, is that cellphone manufacturers remembered that their phones had speakers (for fancy ringtones) and consequently added the ability to blast tunes through them. As a result, groups of kiddies walk around or sit in trains, with one (or more) of those cellphones blaring into the environment.

Apart from being generally inconsiderate, what I don't understand is how they put up with the sound quality. It's mostly hip-hop music — you know that genre that makes some homies out there install 5000 watt subwoofers into their cars so make sure the windows rattle with the base — but these phones have a frequency spectrum comparable in width to that of your grandfather's, way further up the scale (meaning they just don't do base). Playing hip-hop through those is like putting a flute concerto on a subwoofer, just worse, because high-pitch tones are harder to filter by those who don't want to hear them.

And yet, I see it all over the place, kiddies "listening" to music through cellphone speakers. Is it because silence would kill them?

NP: 65daysofstatic: The Fall of Math