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The Nation

Pressing the Mute Button on Our Daily Soundtrack

December 19, 2004|Roy Rivenburg | Times Staff Writer

Imagine a newspaper story in the 1920s about vanishing noises, Beaber said. The prime example would be the clop of horse hoofs on pavement.

"People would be talking about how the world just wouldn't be the same without that sound," he said.

But flash forward to 2004. "Do we find ourselves longing for the sound of those hoofs now? Of course not," Beaber said. "Humans adapt and move on."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Becoming disconnected

The list of dead and dying sounds keeps growing.

One of the chief habitats for endangered audio species is the telephone. The busy signal has been curtailed by call-waiting. The clink of coins in pay phones is being overtaken by credit cards. And the soothing whoosh of rotary dialing has been replaced by the tones of push buttons.

Even the relatively young screech of telephone modems is being hustled out of earshot by DSL and cable computer connections.

Modernization has also taken a toll on other sonic standbys, including:

The wavy electronic frequency noise heard when changing stations on a manually tuned radio (virtually eliminated by digital tuners).

* The hum of adding machines (deep-sixed by the gentle tap-tap of calculator keys).

* The telegraph.

* The ticking and winding of watches (succumbing to digital and electronic timepieces).

* The rat-a-tat of daisy-wheel printers (courtesy of inkjets and lasers).

* The click and clink of pull-chain light switches (extinguished by mercury switches).

Roy Rivenburg, Times staff writer

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