I recently bought a new pair of earphones. Usually after I buy a pair, I lose the little ear cushions that come with them one by one. One will fall off while taking them out of my pocket, so I’ll replace the remaining one with two of the ones that come with them. Then I’ll lose one of those, so I’ll resort to the final pair, which are usually too big or too small. And then I’ll lose another one, and have to start using different sized ones: small in the left ear, and big in the right one, for example.
I don’t often get to that stage though, because usually the earphones stop working before I run out of ear cushions, and I actually end up having spares to go with my next pair. This time though, I’d obviously got a good pair, because I lost five of the six ear cushions that came with the earphones, and they were (are) still working just fine.
I thought about going without one of the ear cushions, but it’s quite uncomfortable, and the sound quality is noticeably worse in the side without the cushion. So I decided to get a new pair, and while looking in T.K Maxx, I noticed that most pairs were Bluetooth. Might as well enter the 21st century, I thought, and got a reasonably-priced pair (you have to find the right balance when buying earphones: too cheap and they’ll break too soon, too expensive and you’ll be too upset when they inevitably break).
As I was listening to the American man who lives inside the earphones and tells me when they’re switched on or connected, I remembered the reason why the technology’s called Bluetooth.
It was developed in the 1990s as a joint venture by a group of companies including IBM, Nokia, Intel, and Ericsson, who wanted to create a standard for short-range wireless communication.
Coming up with a name proved difficult, until Ericsson engineer Sven Mattisson remembered a story he’d heard about King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson. In the 10th century AD, Harald brought Christianity to Denmark, and united the disparate tribes of Danes. No-one’s quite sure exactly why he was called Bluetooth, but it’s probably because he had a distinctive dead tooth which looked blue. The name seemed appropriate, because he united the Danes just as Bluetooth would unite different devices in communication, but it was only ever intended as a placeholder. But when no-one could come up with a better name (Flirt was considered, because devices would connect, but never touch), it became the official name.
The distinctive Bluetooth symbol is actually a combination of the Scandivian runes for Harald’s initials, so whether you write the word Bluetooth or use the logo, you’re still directly representing his name.
My story has a happy ending by the way. I tried my new headphones while walking and cycling yesterday, and they worked just fine. But then I took them for a run, and they wouldn’t stay in my ears! What a waste, I thought, deflated. But then I had a thought. Like most modern earphones, they of course came with four extra ear cushions. I could take one of those, put it on my old earphones (sport ones which fit just fine when I’m running), and keep those for exercise, and my new Bluetooth ones for everyday use. And it’s not like I’m going to lose the ear cushions on them, so it’s OK to use one on my old pair, isn’t it?