Where they sound no less annoying.
The Wall Street Journal hired a sound engineer who analyzed the tones of a Nokia 5190. Just as suspected, it chirped at predominately 2.64 kHz, the same frequency as screeching car tires.
"It's awful," says Robert Reneker, a music professor at the University of Chicago. "Take any eight bars of music and put it on that little machine and it will drive you nuts!"
Market-research firm IDC says office cell phone usage soared 63 percent in January of 2002 compared with the same period last year, with 40 percent of all consumer users reporting having made or received a cell phone call at work.
Combine the phones' high frequencies with the close proximity of fellow employees, and it's easy to see how co-workers can drive each other nuts.
A recent survey of 6,000 Australian office workers conducted by recruiting firm TMP Worldwide found "irritating mobile phone rings" the No. 1 workplace annoyance, defeating "riding on the work of others," "body odor," and colleagues who take stuff from your desk without asking.
The Journal notes that it's all so unnecessary. Most offices have plenty of phones - ringing in a range of frequencies that, when intercepted by voicemail, melt into background noise.
So why are cell phones ringing in offices anyway? The Journal offers this theory: In a world where people feel increasingly interchangeable, we use cell phones to help us stand out. A riff from "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" or the aria of "Madame Butterfly" says we're more than just another face in the crowd.
"This plays to something deep in our nature. We want to be peacocks and show our feathers," says Jakob Nielsen, a consultant at Nielsen Norman Group, who focuses on making technology easier for regular people to use. "It's a deep, deep desire to dominate our surroundings."
cell phone makers, fully aware of the growing backlash, promise improvements. They're promoting cell phone-courtesy campaigns, hoping users will voluntarily curtail their bad behavior. They're also pushing phones with polyphonic ring tones that use a greater range of frequencies and should be less annoying than the squeaking variety.
But the new cell phones also play "MIDI" files - scratchy, AM-radio-quality renditions of any sound ever made. The most-downloaded rings in the U.S. include Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and Metallica's "Enter Sandman," according to Openwave Systems, a Redwood City, Calif., wireless software company.
It gets worse, according to the Journal. A Nokia spokesman told a reporter of being in a meeting recently when a state-of-the-art cell phone suddenly began emitting human screams.
ing conquered airports, buses, even public lavatories, cellular telephones are now taking offices by storm.