Friday, January 28, 2011

The Intercom System

As a child we were probably all told that it's wrong to talk to strangers. Children are defenseless and innocent, and parents always do their best to prevent them from being harmed. The best defense against potential assailants is to stay as far away from them as possible, and definitely not engage them in any long conversations. This is why people are nervous about opening their doors to strangers as well. Once the door is open, the whole house is potentially at risk. The fear of the unknown is quite powerful, and it's therefore quite common for one to seldom open the door to an unfamiliar face. Although this way of thinking seems logical, how can one know who is familiar unless the door is first opened?

One solution to solving this identity problem is to develop a system of bell reading techniques. Growing up, I always had my own set of keys, and I generally didn't need to use the bell. However, sometimes the keys would be misplaced, and it would be very annoying to wait outside for hours just because my brothers were scared of opening the door. The whole family need not be on red alert just because one member of the household left his keys in his yesterday’s pants pocket. Therefore, my older brother developed a kind of Morse Code for door bells. Naturally the code was slightly annoying, and this made it much more effective as well. This code was a secret for me and my brothers alone, and we were able to safely find our way inside without scaring everyone in the house to death.

Although this kind of private key cryptography works fine with relatives, it doesn't quite solve the problem for the average innocent folks that would have no knowledge of the code and would probably not have the gall to actually use it either way. Other methods must be used in order to screen the average door bell ringer. A more general solution would be to deduce the identity of unknown visitors through careful analysis of the door bell ring. The potential identity of the visitor can usually be narrowed down first. Ninety percent of non-coded bell rings come from collectors of one kind or another. The other nine percent come from the mail carrier, Con Edison, neighbors, or political activists. Only one percent of the time is the person a complete stranger. After narrowing down the possibilities, by carefully listening to the length of the bell it is possible to deduce some pertinent information. Collectors generally give very short rings especially if they are just a few kids selling raffle tickets. However, if one hears a very long ring it is quite probable that it's an old man collecting for his institution. Mail carriers and Con Edison always give the shortest rings. Neighbors always ring the bell somewhere in the middle, but it's always hard to tell exactly. Long and annoying repetitive rings most likely signal danger or an emergency. A short whisper of a ring followed by a longer ring is probably indicative of a shy individual that may have important things to give you or an important favor to ask of you. A careful reading of the door bell can sometimes both prevent unwanted confrontations and avoid wasted time. However, door bell reading alone is rarely reliable enough, and some other techniques are undoubtedly necessary.

Other techniques may be used in conjunction with bell reading. The time of day can give some clues as to the potential threats of answering the door. Earlier in the day it's very unlikely to encounter problems, and the stranger is probably just a FedEx delivery person. Late at night, however, potential risks increase exponentially. It is quite possible that there are a bunch of drunken college students panhandling for extra booze. More caution is advised at those times. Sometimes after reading enough into the bell, it’s possible to peek through the curtain in hopes of seeing who may be there. Although this technique can be very effective, it is also quite risky. Not only does it feel very awkward to be caught staring at someone, it also informs the stranger of your presence. Once he or she knows you are home, it will likely be much longer before the door bell finally stops ringing. Proper care must be taken to remain undetected. Although some of these techniques may help, the identity problem seems to present a formidable challenge.

With the invention of the intercom system, however, all the worries of outsiders seem to fade away. This device can enable one to communicate with the outdoors, and it solves the problem of dealing with disagreeable people. No longer does one have to listen carefully to the rhythm of the bell or sneak a peek from behind the window. Instead of personal interaction, a few brief questions can decide whether this guest is worthy of attention. An innocent person can prove his or her innocents, and the occasional scary stranger won't fool anyone. It seems that this device has become effective enough at dealing with the identity problem, and few people even realize that such a problem ever existed. Telemarketing has replaced most door to door panhandling, and breaking through windows has replaced the usual front door hold up. The intercom is a simple example of how technological progress can completely revolutionize the world.

An incident that happened to me a few days ago brought to life some other purposes for the intercom, and I began realizing what a great device it really was. Some people would like information about the occupants of the house before actually meeting them. Aside from helping screen outsiders to avoid unwanted encounters, an intercom helps screen insiders from helpless collectors as well. When I heard the bell ring a few nights ago I wasn't in the mood of using the intercom. Instead, I used my bell reading clairvoyance to discern that there was a collector at the door, and I felt confident dealing with him in person. I went straight for the door and opened it. The visitors were three very young girls going door to door selling raffles for their school. When they saw me come to the door two of them began running away. It was clear that my not using the intercom was a complete startle to them. The third girl standing at the bottom of the steps informed me very rapidly that she was selling raffle tickets for her school. I decided that she probably expected some old lady to answer the door, and I didn't feel obligated to buy any raffles. Although, I had correctly identified the strangers as collectors, a brief use of the intercom would have avoided traumatizing these girls for life.

I am amazed at how much some simple pieces of technology have shaped our lives. At first I was puzzled about the whole situation. But then I realized that it is abnormal to answer the door in a completely uninformed manner. It has become that natural to expect people to use the intercom, and people are already relying on it in order to screen those inside the house. I had never given the intercom much thought before this happened, but now I realized how important this device has become for everyone. Once certain devices enter our lives they can easily become practically indispensible.


  1. My front door has a one-way mirror so that I can see out but outsiders just see themselves. Also, most doors have that little peephole that you can only see out and not in. Those both trump the intercom because no one has to know whether you're actually home or not.

  2. Very true! However, that actually requires getting up and walking to the door. Once you are going that far you might as well just open it.