Musings on The Mosquito

While reading the free commuter newspaper on the subway several Thursdays ago, I came across an abbreviated version of this Canadian Press story:

It’s a sound meant for young ears only, but the results could be sweet music to anyone dealing with troublesome teens.

A convenience store in a community just south of Edmonton is one of the first in Alberta to employ the Mosquito teen repellent, a device that emits an irritating, high-frequency squeal that’s audible only to young people.

A clerk at the Mac’s in Beaumont, about 20 kilometres south of Edmonton, says teens have quit hanging around the back of the store and being a nuisance to customers.

“Nobody can stand over there now,” said the clerk. “It’s working pretty good.”

Mac’s also uses them in several stores in the Vancouver area.

The shop is one of two Mac’s stores in the Edmonton area using the device. Doug Hartl, the convenience chain’s western Canadian security boss, says the Mosquito has been so successful that more are planned in the city.

“We’ll do it on a store-to-store basis where there’s a problem with kids congregating and causing problems,” he said.

To paraphrase some of the rest of the story:

The Mosquito – which is generally supposed to be inaudible to anyone over 25, but drives away anyone who can hear it – was developed in the United Kingdom, and has been around for some time. But distribution rights for North America were only acquired last year by a Vancouver-based company.

Each of the small units – described as looking like a six-inch cube – costs about $ 1,500, and a few other places in Edmonton and Calgary have either installed them on a trial basis, or have tested them out (as was the case in a junior and senior high school in Edmonton).

A spokeman interviewed in the article said the Mosquito has no long-term effects on people’s hearing.

But all that aside – how good an idea is it, really?

A few thoughts:

(1) Not to say that kids in Edmonton or other places out west don’t have iPods or MP3 players … but at one point or another, a lot of people have been on buses or trains, where kids who have music devices are blasting the music so loud, everyone within 15 feet or so can hear what they’re listening to.

What if the Mosquito doesn’t work ’cause these kids either (a) have their music blasting or (b) they might not hear it because, over time, listening to loud music has dulled their hearing?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter ’cause the people employing the Mosquito have it cranked loud enough to drive them away.

(2) Once upon a time, the Toronto Transit Commission thought playing classical music at select stations where large numbers of kids were known to congregate, would drive them away. And it did – for a while. Now kids just ignore it and carry on with their business. How do these storeowners know these kids won’t come back because they grow used to it or find a way around it?

Which brings me to …

(3) The story I read about the Mosquito, in the New York Times two years ago. It explains what happened when someone got their hands on the “yob repellent”, designed in Wales, and allowed some teenagers – through the power of the Internet – a way which allowed them to get one over on the very people trying to use it to drive said teenagers away. You can read about it for yourself here

I mean, this is what kids in Manhattan managed to do with it. What’s not to say it might eventually happen here?

I know I sound like a pessimist. I’m not. Nor am I necessarily anti-adolescent. But I don’t know if the Mosquito is so much a solution to the problem, as it is a short-term fix that kids may find a way to adapt to.

Just my two cents.

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