top of page
Correcting Your Behavior Since 2017

How Microphones Work

This may turn out to be a very short installment of The Weekly Curmudgeon. Its message could easily by summed up in a single sentence. But regardless of the word count, it's crucial to our survival as a civilized society that this information be published far and wide, to every city and town, every village and hamlet. Here it is: when using a microphone, it is not necessary to yell into it. In fact, doing so has an extremely unpleasant effect. Yelling is for when one lacks a microphone.

Here's a brief history that I'll be inventing as I go along. A long time ago, it was difficult to be heard when addressing large groups of people. So those who had such a desire needed to yell. Then the ancient Greeks (history's biggest show-offs) figured out how to build theaters designed to amplify the human voice. They also invented the megaphone (a cone-shaped device that could be held up to the mouth or built into a mask), just to make sure everyone knew how smart they were. At some point (I don't know when. Look it up if you're so inclined. I'm not in the mood.), someone (probably another Greek) invented a device that amplified and transmitted the voice electronically and voilà, we had microphones. So now, mankind could finally hear those all-important sports scores, campaign speeches, and cigarette commercials. But now we live in a generation of dolts, people who can't speak their own native language and are too stupid to care, people who've somehow managed to be both offensive and offended at the same time, people who don't understand how a microphone works. And so airport pages, grocery store price checks, station announcements on public transportation, all perfectly audible when spoken into a microphone in a normal tone of voice, occasionally become jarring assaults on the ears. All becomes auditory chaos as those in the vicinity—well-meaning souls, most of whom never did anything to deserve this—cower involuntarily, their hands reflexively shooting up to protect their ears against an unexpected tsunami of distorted sound as someone yells “MANAG*~#INEEDAPRAGHHHSHHHHCHECKONCAM^#!L”SSOUPHHHSHH.” Whence the confusion? The microphone isn't a new invention. While a citizen of our modern world might reasonably be confused by, say, Snapchat, or ApplePay, one would have to be a Luddite hermit not to have at some point encountered a microphone. And so, for those few Luddite hermits reading this piece on scraps of parchment slipped under your doors while you hid from sight, I'll explain. Microphones: you speak into them and they make your voice louder. No need to shout. The rest of society—the non-Luddite/hermit part—has no excuse.

And yet, people are being given access to mics who have somehow failed to grasp how they work.. Yelling into a mic is destructively redundant. It's like building a fire inside your oven. It's like using an eraser to make corrections on your computer screen. It's like wetting water. Just substitute any Polish joke you've ever heard. That's how idiotic it is. Unfortunately, it's a kind of stupidity that victimizes innocent bystanders with sudden, violent aural ambush.

People who use a microphone ought to understand its painfully simple operation. And it's worth noting that this group doesn't just include those who use microphones at work. It also includes everyone who owns a telephone. Telephones also contain microphones. And yes, if you're following along, you might see where I'm headed with this thought. You don't need to yell into your phones either. I know this is jarring news to some, but I encourage you to experiment; try speaking normally and see whether you can be heard. Please, for all our sakes, try it. I propose that all citizens be required to take a brief course in how to interact with this everyday gadget. In fact, the Curmudgeon would be happy to teach such a course. In fact, it will be a very brief course. In fact, we can conduct it right now, in print. Let's begin.

Microphones make your voice louder. You don't need to yell into them.

When you do, it makes people's ears hurt.

Class dismissed.

And as a graduation ritual, everyone should have to sit in a subway car while a conductor screams station stops into the on-board public address system so as to cement the lesson, searing into my students' ears forever the deeply unpleasant experience caused by such a vocal sledgehammering. Only then would graduates of my class be licensed to use vocal amplification.

Friends, the Curmudgeon is already grouchy enough, and for many, many very justifiable reasons. Please don't make it worse. Learn how things work before using them. Otherwise, I may forget how civility works.

bottom of page