Raise your hand if you remember the modem dial-up tone

In this video from Wired, two sonic branding experts take us on a tour of the world’s most recognizable tones, chimes, and sound blends, and explain why they impact us the way they do. Sonic branding is designed to grab us in certain ways, and some of these sounds are very much embedded in our psyches.

They also date us. I remember the first time I heard the THX sound in a theater–it blew my eyebrows back and fried my brain. That sound was amazing. And then there’s the scratchy, awful, atonal, teeth-gritting sound of a modem dialup. Do you recall scrambling to turn down the volume so you wouldn’t wake up your parents/roommate/anyone else in the house with that infernal screeching? And yet it was a wonderful sound because it signified the opening of a gateway to a whole new world.

It occurred to me that my 16-year-old son has never heard that sound in real usage and won’t have any of the associations with it that I do. But then, he would probably recognize all of the gaming console sounds while I don’t know a single one of them.

Sounds are closely tied to memory and emotion. Sound embeds itself in our lives. The fact that some of these sounds make me smile or feel nostalgic is a testament to their power. It’s no wonder that Apple’s discard of the classic Mac start-up chime in the new MacBook Pros has left so many users feeling bereft. (But take heart: you can get it back with a simple Terminal command.)

And oh, that Law and Order dum dum. Who knew it was supposed to be the sound of a jail door closing?

(Edited to add: I’ve just learned that the embedded video is not viewable in the US. Try this site, which seems to have bypassed the regional restrictions.)

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About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
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2 Responses to Raise your hand if you remember the modem dial-up tone

  1. Alma says:

    *raises hand nostalgically* My mum was the only one allowed to cause that sound, because dad is technologically illiterate about anything beyond power outlets and light fixtures, and the rest of us were kids or teens. But to me it symbolises excitement and impatience!
    But why in the world would Apple remove the startup sound?!?!?! Rude. Definitely terminalling that back if needed.
    Skeuomorphism is my new favourite word. The trash sound is perfect, it actually sounds like a paper being balled up and chucked in a bin, and the iPhone typing clicks do make it easier to type. It’s really fascinating!
    I had never in my life heard the Intel startup that they said so many people have heard, and I don’t get any response at all to the Facebook messaging because I’ve only ever heard it from my brother’s computer… The Nokia ringtone just makes me angry because I heard it all the time on public transport and that association made me hate it. But the Skype dial tone made me smile, and the SEEEGAAAA made me actually happy-flap (which is probably the highest compliment this here aspie is capable of…) 😀

    • Apple removed the startup sound on the new laptops because there’s really no startup. You open the lid and it boots automatically. (But I’m with you; I’d Terminal it right back in.)

      And I hear you on the happy-flapping!

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