Jed Dunkerleys Pump Jacks
  • Jed Dunkerley's Pump Jacks
Jed Dunkerley is a visual artist who has begun to be driven mad by the ubiquitous beeping of our lives.

He sent me the piece of his writing below in the hopes that he might find some peace.

If you would like to discuss this with him, he holds court (and will kindly help you to become a better drawer) at a live nude figure drawing session at Canoe Social Club, next to Pretty Parlor, from 7 to 10 pm Monday night (February 21).

The beeping. The shrill assurance. Digital validation. The transaction went through. The doors did indeed lock. The item was, in fact, scanned. The truck is backing up.
I’ve been paying more acute attention, lately, to the sheer number of beeps that underscore our modern lives. I rue their normalcy. Beeps like urban birdsongs—that mean something to somebody, but mostly just occupy the peripheral soundscape of everyone else.
I was recently in a CVS pharmacy in our nation’s capital, and the cacophony—between the cashier’s scanner registering my purchases, the touchpad on which I entered my PIN number, and the four automated checker machines operating simultaneously to my right—was nearly seizure-inducing. I empathized with the employees who have to endure such sonic blight during every minute of every day of their employment (while I’m sure that they’ve “gotten used to it,” it no doubt has caused some sort of psychological scar tissue that has other averse effects, like an inability to hear flutes or triangles, or something). The cars, in the parking lots, as they lock and unlock; the microwave oven as it finishes irradiating its thing; the arrival of a text message; the ATM withdrawal; home alarm system; gas pump…all give the added acknowledgment of this tiny noise—this electronic beeping.

Further thoughts:

1. I prefer/strain to think that this “beep” was actually a commercial commission given to Brian Eno or Danny Elfman, and that they get some royalty every time we hear it.

2. I want to start keeping track of how many beeps I hear in an average week in some sort of log book so I can present a case to the tender ear of the Obama administration that this is something to provoke federal outrage and legislative attention.

3. In the meantime, I want to lobby for the designation of “beep-free” zones in our urban landscape, where citizens can exist, free of the ear-torture of the beeping.

4. I want to advocate for a culture that is capable of paying attention to simple, more private visual or tactile cues: the timer shows zero, the handle feels locked, the reverse lights are on, etc.

My mind jumps to perverse future realities with the air filled with louder and even more, unnecessary beeps—the fridge door is ajar, the windows have shut, the coffee is ready, the dishes are clean, there is something on your calendar today, someone is invading your pre-set radius of personal space, someone just updated their Facebook page, you spilled something on your pants, you’re distributing your weight unevenly on a chair. So much beeping to notice or block out, and to such an extent that, ultimately, the beeps won’t be perceivable enough (see earlier reference to apparent ineffectualness of visual stimuli), and what will be next? Shocks? Hot blasts? Brain taps?
Or the converse: we will rely so much on the beeps that if or when the beeps malfunction (since we will be in the habit of no longer checking the visual or tactile validation), millions of things will go undone, unlocked, unscanned, inactive, or unnoticed. This is because we’ve learned to trust the beep, and, further, to obey the beep.
And this leads to all sorts of subversive potentials, of course. Theft. Deception. Torture. Maybe war. Who knows? Whoever controls the beep, controls…

Jed Dunkerley—12 July 2010