In The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal recalls the otherworldly howl of a 56K modem negotiating its connection, and quotes our pal GlennF in his 1998 explanation of that characteristic anthem of the heroic bronze age of the Internet:
This is a choreographed sequence that allowed these digital devices to piggyback on an analog telephone network. "A phone line carries only the small range of frequencies in which most human conversation takes place: about 300 to 3,300 hertz," Glenn Fleishman explained in the Times back in 1998. "The modem works within these limits in creating sound waves to carry data across phone lines." What you're hearing is the way 20th century technology tunneled through a 19th century network; what you're hearing is how a network designed to send the noises made by your muscles as they pushed around air came to transmit anything, or the almost-anything that can be coded in 0s and 1s.
The frequencies of the modem's sounds represent parameters for further communication. In the early going, for example, the modem that's been dialed up will play a note that says, "I can go this fast." As a wonderful old 1997 website explained, "Depending on the speed the modem is trying to talk at, this tone will have a different pitch."
That is to say, the sounds weren't a sign that data was being transferred: they were the data being transferred. This noise was the analog world being bridged by the digital. If you are old enough to remember it, you still knew a world that was analog-first.
The sound clip comes from The Museum of Endangered Sounds, where you can find "the mechanical noise a VHS tape made when it entered the VCR or the way a portable CD player sounded when it skipped."
The Mechanics and Meaning of That Ol' Dial-Up Modem Sound
It’s been more than 20 years since the publication of Making Book, Teresa Nielsen Hayden’s collection of essays, mostly drawn from the pre-online days of fanzines and letters columns; this year, in honor of Teresa’s stint as Fan Guest of Honor at Midamericon II, the 74th World Science Fiction Convention, NESFA Press has published a second volume: Making Conversation, a collection of essays drawn from the online world on subjects as varied as moderation and trolling, cooking, hamster-rearing, fanfic, narcolepsy, the engineering marvels of the IBM Selectric, and more.
Someone — possibly the government of China — has launched a series of probing attacks on the internet’s most critical infrastructure, using carefully titrated doses of denial-of-service to precisely calibrate a tool for shutting down the whole net.
Steven Levy, author of Hackers and one of the best tech writers in the field (previously), has profiled Carl Malamud (previously), the prolific, tireless freedom fighter who has risked everything to publish the world’s laws on the internet, even those claimed to be owned by “nonprofit” standards organizations whose million-dollar execs say that you should […]
With the iPhone headphone jack having gone by the wayside, we’re excited about the addition of the FRANKLIN Bluetooth Headphones in our store. These headphones are foldable so they’re easy to carry around, but most importantly, they pack impressive sound. Our biggest struggle with Bluetooth headphones is the worry of them dying at the worst moment. This pair lasts an impressive 8-10 […]
Evan Kimbrell, founder of the digital agency Sprintkick, recently released a series of online courses that feature some of the best advice we’ve come across. These courses are well worth your time, and will save you from making many typical mistakes down the line if you ever want to start your own business.With this Business […]
Handy is the most convenient solution we’ve found for booking a house cleaning at the last minute, and they do a really great job. It’s as easy as heading to the site, selecting a date and time that works for you and the number of rooms in your home. We’ve even scheduled emergency cleanings as soon as the following day. […]