For centuries, long before watches were a commodity, the bells chiming from churches and other buildings to mark the passage of another hour were probably a staple of life. They are quite distracting nowadays, but I imagine they faded into the background once upon a time, subconsciously informing people of the time without conscious intervention or processing.

At most workplaces, there’s now a new subconscious trigger, keeping us informed about the passage of time. But it’s not bells. In fact, it’s often masked as a vibration, but still manages to get the point across:


But smartphones aren’t keeping time the way church bells were – you’re on your own if you need to find the top of the hour without looking at a device. But 15 minutes before the end of every hour, a cacophony of vibrations, beeps, and chimes alert their owners about the coming meeting at the top of the hour. In fact, I think most office workers could imitate the “deedle deedle” sound of an iPhone’s default meeting reminder from memory.

You no longer need to watch the clock to know when you’re approaching freedom from that dragging meeting. (A slick way to avoid being THAT person, watching the clock as if it might sprout legs and run away.) It makes me wonder – what other sounds surround us, so ubiquitous that we don’t even register that we’re getting information from them?

In addition to their function as a aural clock, church bells were also often the only way to gather large groups of people. Can smartphones serve that purpose for us? Can’t we harness that extra layer of sound communication? Imagine a special emergency sound on smartphones, akin to the Emergency Broadcast System, that could pull people out of whatever they’re doing and warn them to prepare – for a volcano, tsunami, tornado, or other mass-impact event. What lives could be saved if we put our modern church bells to good use?