Posted by: kaleidophonic | March 14, 2012

Shut-Up Guns & Mosqueeter Tweeters

Hey all, happy Wednesday!

On Monday I blogged about the militarization of noise, and the use of sound to dispel and disrupt protest or demonstrations. Today I’ll be talking about some of the same concepts, but on a much smaller scale.

Allow me to introduce two pieces of technology that use sound to police social morality – The Mosquito and the SpeechJammer.

The Mosquito was invented in 2005 by one Howard Stapleton, who got the idea after his young daughter was hassled by some toughs outside their local convenience store.

Stapleton complained to the proprietor of the store who told him that rowdy teenagers had become a real problem for him – they were threatening to his customers and driving his business away. Stapleton wondered if he could apply his experience in the security industry to the situation.

I recently heard a CBC radio interview with Mr. Stapleton, where he recounted a memory from his youth. He’d been invited to tour a factory, and at one point during the tour he became aware of a dreadful buzzing noise. When he asked what the noise was, no one else on the tour could hear it! It turned out that since Stapleton was the youngest on the tour, and his hearing range hadn’t been reduced through the wear-and-tear of daily life, he was capable of hearing frequencies of sound that other (older) people couldn’t!

Pairing this memory with his technical knowhow, Stapleton came up with The Mosquito – a device that emits a high-pitched noise that only youngsters can hear. The sound is irritating (but not painful) – annoying enough to drive people away from the source of the sound. Since then, Stapleton has marketed his product as a security device to prevent youths from gathering in certain locations. Therefore, in theory anyways, it has a general usefulness with regards to reducing so-called “anti-social” behaviour, such as loitering, graffiti, vandalism, drug use, drug distribution, and violence.

But this product is not without its critics:

“The Mosquito has attracted controversy on the basis of human rights. Critics say that it discriminates against young people and infringes their human rights, while supporters argue that making the Mosquito illegal would infringe the human rights of shopkeepers who suffer business losses when “unruly teenagers” drive away their customers.”

In 2008 a children’s rights campaign took the maker of the Mosquito to task, arguing that the device infringed on the rights of young people. If this sort of action was targeted against any other social group, civil libertarians argued, it would provoke uproar.  They have a point. Not all youngsters are punks looking for trouble.

So now you know what to do if you’re being bugged by hooligans down at the corner store. But what if you’re being taunted by someone talking trash on the street? Or some bozos being too loud at the library? You ever have the desire to just shoot people like this in the face? Well, turns out there’s a gizmo for that, too.

Enter the SpeechJammer, aka “the gun that shuts you up (without killing you)”.

The science behind this gadget is fairly simple:

The gun listens in with a directional microphone and plays it back to them with a 0.2 second delay. This creates an environment in which one is simply unable to speak. The technical term for this is Delayed Auditory Feedback.

This means that the device works without causing any physical discomfort – which is more than can be said for the Mosquito, or the more industrial sonic weapons such as the LRAD sound cannon used by police forces.

But what are the implications of this device for freedom of speech? What does it mean when you can just shut down (or shut up) anyone who is voicing opinions you’d rather not listen to? What if this person, or people, are persistent? What if they have legitimate criticisms, grievances, or concerns?

Well, this is what one journalist has to say about it:

Kurihara and Tsukada [two of the Japanese inventors] make no claims about the commercial potential of their device but  list various aplications. They say it could be used to maintain silence in public libraries and to “facilitate discussion” in group meetings. “We have to establish and obey rules for proper turn-taking when speaking,” they say.

That has important implications. “There are still many cases in which the negative aspects of speech become a barrier to the peaceful resolution of conflicts, ” they point out.

Clearly, speech jamming has a significant future role in contributing to world peace and should obviously be installed at the United Nations with immediate effect.

Ha! Good one.



  1. […] society. I’ve also blogged about the LRAD and militarization of sound here,  and dealt with other noise-emitting devices designed to silence as […]

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