Backup Beepers—Irritronics from Safetyland

I coined the term “Safetyland” for the United States in the late 1980s, after having moved to a rural area of the Pacific coast of California in hope of escaping some of the aggravation of suburbia, compounded by having Californians as neighbours. Well, just as vacuum polarisation causes a “naked electron” to be surrounded by a cloud of virtual particles summoned from the quantum vacuum, my presence in uncrowded terrain causes houses to spring up in all directions and, before long, the adjacent lot, which had been vacant since the first Spanish settlers arrived in California, turned into a construction site, complete with the idiotic backup beepers on every kind of mobile construction equipment, which sounded off at deafening levels from the crack of dawn throughout the entire working day.

Around the same time, I invented the word “irritonics” to describe electronic devices whose primary function (intended or not) was to create irritation in humans exposed to them. For example, consider the “call waiting” clickity-clack introduced by the Phone Company in the 1970s. When you were on a phone call and somebody else tried to call you, you’d be interrupted by a clicking sound that disrupted the conversation. That was bad enough, but think about what happened when you were connected to a timesharing computer with a telephone modem. You were lucky if it just garbled your input and output instead of causing a disconnect by the other end.

Backup beepers are a prime example of irritronics. They had been mandated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one of the putrescent “achievements” of the Nixon administration, which also inflicted upon the U.S. the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the “floating” (actually, mostly sinking) dollar, “peace with honour” in Vietnam, Amtrak, the War on Drugs, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A typical backup beeper emits sound around 1000 Hz at 97–112 decibels, where 70 decibels is the sound level which causes long-term hearing loss—for safety!

Now, they’re going to improve backup beepers and mandate them in even more situations. Thank Bob I got the heck out of that crazy country.


Before smartphones and TikTok zombified them, “youths” were menacingly loitering in front of various establishments. As an aside, the etymology of “loiter” is interesting.

Nevertheless, solutions like the Mosquito were invented to make the youths go away.


I know of a family whose first- and newborn daughter that was constantly crying. It took them multiple months to realize that the building had a youth-repellant mosquito they didn’t know about.