What Sound Looks Like

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt

A doorbell button sends a variety of signals. It’s an instruction, an invitation, a place-marker. When lit at night, it can suggest habitation, even when no one is home. Often, especially in dense urban settings, the doorbell’s inherent messages aren’t sufficient to the task, however. There may be numbers and letters to clarify the association of address and interface. There may be arrows directing the visitor’s eye and finger. There may be redirects for postal services. There may be cameras that, intentionally or not, create an interactional moat, a digitally mediated divide between visitor and host — the host in such circumstances has an access to, a vantage on, a control over the visitor before the visitor has ever stepped foot inside. There’s lore of the vampire, who in some tellings must have permission before crossing such a threshold; digital vampires of the opposite persuasion — the ones on the recording end of the camera — have no significant restraints on their ability to capture, to collect and collate. They need not even cross the divide to have a presence.

Sometimes the additional message is simply a bit of text, like here, where the instruction to “push hard” is neatly appended below the button. This modest device has no internet-era or even multi-functional connectivity, but it does speak messages, even beyond its literal one. For context, understand that there is also an array of buttons hung on that perpendicular metal gate. This button is an add-on, perhaps a replacement for one of the earlier ones. There is personality to the writing, in particular the swirl in the numeral 2 and the playful vitality of that “a” in “hard,” its schoolbook charm somehow both youthful and old-fashioned. This writing wasn’t done quickly, or haphazardly, or out of anger. It doesn’t appear to contain a subtext of antipathy toward a landlord, or toward technology for that matter. The writing is welcoming, reducing any emotional strain that such an instruction might have introduced in other circumstances.

Still, the button itself shows little wear, which can be read generously as the resilience of something well-constructed, or more likely as evidence of it having been pushed with limited frequency over the years. The genteel stroke of the pen, upon reflection, takes on a kind of neediness, the entreating smile of an urban entity that knows the loneliness of the crowd all too well.

An ongoing series cross-posted from instagram.com/dsqt.

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