One of those modern encounters: For the last two days, intermittently, we have heard a low, insistent, repeated "beep." We had to ask our eight-year-old, Joe, to locate it for us, with his extremely sharp ears.
The beep came from a smoke detector mounted on the ceiling outside our boys' bedrooms. A blinking red light accompanied it.
Sally unscrewed the detector, unplugged it from the electrical circuit, and replaced the battery. The beeping did not stop, even with the smoke detector not plugged in to anything.
So this morning I took the detector in to my friend at the local hardware store. He put in a fresh battery, and the beeping stopped.
A beep basically tells you nothing. More correctly, it could mean anything. And there are beeps unlimited all around us. Think back a mere, what, 40 years? Picture the American home of 1968, or for the centuries preceding that date. Nothing beeped. Nothing.
How things have changed.
WE UPGRADED OUR kitchen appliances a few years back. No complaints, everything works better. But we have had to get used to an entire repertoire of beeps.
To turn on the oven, push the button marked "bake." It beeps. If you do not set a temperature, via another push button, the oven will beep at you until you do it. No, in fact there's another step. You set the temperature, then hit "start" ("beep"). When the oven reaches the desired temperature, it beeps four times.
The "oven light" button beeps, when pressed. So does the "clear/off" button.
The buttons on the new stove hood beep when you select a fan or light setting.
The new microwave, of course, beeps for every possible function, including the one that signals "end" -- that one will keep on beeping until you either punch a button to turn the cycle "off" ("beep") or open the door -- which also beeps.
The dishwasher, it took us some time to discover, will beep when it has finished its cycle, generally after a long period of apparent inactivity and silence. The first time it happened, we looked around for a failing smoke alarm.
Indeed, these periods of inactivity on the part of the dishwasher are so common that it's easy to open the door during a busy cycle, and then fail to click it entirely closed. When you do that, the dishwasher will beep at you continually, at very long intervals, just a lazy reminder, until you close it completely.
How do you know it's closed? It beeps.
TRUCKS BEEP WHEN they back up. My car beeps when it wants more gas. Beeps prod me to fasten my seat belt, close the trunk lid, enter my PIN at the ATM, or put a new battery in our dog's electric fence collar.
That smoke detector? It's sitting, mute for the moment, on the kitchen counter. We're afraid to plug it back into its slot in the ceiling. It might beep at us. We wouldn't have any idea what it meant.