Something for the weekend? My cell phone just spoke to me. He said, “Ba-ding!” It has never been said before and I don’t know what it means. What does he want ?
It’s my fault that I left the audio output disabled between remote calls. If I leave it on, every little pissing background app on my system rings and hoots relentlessly throughout the day alerting me to some irrelevant non-event or another. Alerts manage to bypass do not disturb mode by misidentifying themselves as “urgent” or “important”. I’ve tried on occasion to set them to stop doing this, but I quickly get bored and silence the whole computer instead.
Popular culture is involved. Computers in movies and TV shows always make unnecessary sounds, and I’m not just talking about the beeps and panel bloops otherwise totally ignored on star trek1960s cockpit. Even today, if someone in a movie or TV show types on a computer keyboard, the computer dutifully says “say-say-say-say-say-say” for reasons that must always remain mysterious.
Even when the computer is built-in and without a keyboard, like in Robocop’s brain implants or the T-800’s cranial unit, and some text information appears in front of their AR eyeballs, it still does that “say-say-say -said-said-said” thing. A cursor blinks at the end of each line of text “beep-beep-beep-beep”, as if waiting for a keystroke input from “Brainy” Numskull.
Certainly, if this happened in my head all day, I too would like to kill someone. My first hit would be the Cyberdyne or Omni Consumer Products (OCP – the megacorp villain of theRoboCop series) project manager who thought it would be smart to encode all those stupid synth sounds in there in the first place.
The last time I thought unnecessary computer sounds were cool was in the early 1990s, when I happily revamped System 6 with ResEdit to make my Mac SE/30 play audio snippets (coincidentally). Robotcop and the first two terminator movies. Have “I’ll be back!” because my stop tone sounded hilarious to me at the time.
Today, I prefer my devices to hold their tongues. But even I could appreciate the cheesy simplicity of AOL’s old “You’ve Got Mail” audio alert. Here, on the other hand, there is no indication that my laptop “Ba-ding!” indicates, not even an on-screen text notification.
At times like this, I ask myself the age-old question: what would Robocop do?
Imagine Murphy making an arrest, having dutifully put his own head on Do Not Disturb mode for the next few minutes. “Come quietly,” he warns, pulling a gun from his leg, “or there will be… trouble.” Then, in the same menacing tone, he announces: “Ba-ding”.
The culprits look at each other quizzically and silently mouth “Ba-ding?”
Murphy lets out a metallic sigh of frustration. “Please wait, citizen, while I check something.”
He digs deep into his system settings to see what “Ba-ding” is supposed to indicate. No joy. How about browsing through that folder of old readmes? pausing now and then to creak in falsetto: “Beep-beep-beep-beep.”
One of the culprits sneers so Murphy shoots him in the leg before silencing his own voicemail to avoid further embarrassment. He’ll have to request another patch from the OCP dev team to fix that, he mused. But that’s not looking good for the company: profits have plummeted since it took on too many utility contracts in which it had no experience. Technical personnel are leaving in droves and even a discount sale of NFT ED-209 will not keep them afloat. He could be stuck with those stupid “Ba-dings” and “Ping-pongs” forever.
He wonders if he should get a job in a police force overseas. In France, for example, there is a tendency for otherwise ordinary, sane people to verbally express their everyday physical actions with onomatopoeia. A waiter puts a coffee in front of a customer and says: “Toc” (pronounced “tock”). The customer places a few coins in the payment dish and replies: “Hop”. So maybe it would seem perfectly normal for future law enforcement to say “Ba-ding” when making an arrest.
I recently attended a two-hour beta software demo where the presenter shouted “Tac!” (pronounced “tack”) whenever he clicked on something; which of course he did two million times during the demo. He probably didn’t know he was doing it. We remember the rumor that Ewan McGregor kept verbalizing “brrrr-rurrr kishh-kishh” while performing his lightsaber scenes during the filming of The Phantom Menace.
The irony of saying “toc” with every physical movement in France is that TOC is the French acronym for TOC.
“Do you I call Mrs. D from my office downstairs, telling Murphy he can take a break from his hunt through my audio files. “If you had onomatopoeic Tourettes like everyone else here, would you rather say ‘knock’ or ‘hop’?”
“CLACK!” comes the surprisingly strong response. Loud window-rattling, in fact.
It was coming from the kitchen. We meet at the probable source of the retort and discover that a spent battery – one of those tiny LR44s – that I had put on a shelf with the intention of putting it in a recycling bin had bored of waiting and had spontaneously exploded.
I turn to Murphy. He looks worried: he probably has a dozen of these things buried in his head right now. Not only does it have duff firmware, but there are a bunch of fast-depleting firecrackers waiting to go off at any moment. What if OCP goes bankrupt before it can replace them? What if – and it’s even more likely – OCP was simply bored with the Robocop project and turned its disruptive spirit towards new horizons of entrepreneurship?
He is unique, you see. It is not standards-based. He is completely proprietary. Soon all the repair shop engineers will be sucking their teeth, shaking their heads and saying such derogatory things like “Oh my oh my oh my dear”, “You can’t get the parts” and “Knock”.
It’s not just a sci-fi fantasy scenario, either. Financial difficulties last year forced neural technology specialist Second Sight to discontinue its Argus II line of machine vision products – sadly but inevitably leaving a number of its customers with delicate eye-brain surgical implants that don’t can no longer be maintained, repaired or (eventually) even removed. Like all kits it will eventually stop working, but there won’t be any more patches, upgrades, spares or even people with Argus II exclusive technical skills to figure out how to fix them from anyway.
No wonder the often ridiculous smart wear industry remains so viable: every time a manufacturer decides to put a smart wearable product at end-of-life – which it does with frustrating regularity – at least you can. take off (hop!) and put on another one (knock!) with relative ease. It’s not like it’s welded to your bleeding neurons. This must be disappointing for science fiction writers, but that’s the way it is.
Murphy is resigned to his fate. He also followed the likely translation of “Ba-ding” to one of two potential meanings: either “A six-month unread notification is still waiting in your Skype account” or “Your pants are on fire.”
He lowers his eyes: his pants are do not on the fire. Fuck Skype, he thinks, don’t they have it end of life yet? He turns to the only remaining suspect and moves his lips silently.
“You’re still on mute,” the suspect said helpfully.
Murphy reactivates his voicemail, imagines the culprit to be OCP project manager Bob Morton, and fires seven bullets into his chest.
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance tech enthusiast, juggling tech journalism, training, and digital publishing. He says if you think you’ve heard the song somewhere before in this week’s music video, give yourself full marks for your cultural awareness of the late 1970s new wave. Here’s the original. More to Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.