Stand by your tone
Your best friends won't tell you, so I will:
That cell phone ringtone of yours that you think is so funny, cool or apt; so very distinctively you?
The one that announces your personality to all within hearing distance?
Maybe--maybe--the first time people hear it they smile or perk up. "Ah! A shrill, low-fi version of a TV theme or pop song I hadn't thought of in a while! An unexpected sound effect!"
Thereafter? Most of the time? Trust me. They're rolling their eyes. They're cringing for you.
It's like that kooky bumper sticker you put on your car in the 1960s, the funny T-shirt you bought in the 1970s, the sly vanity license plate you adopted in the 1980s and the declarative tattoo you sat for in the 1990s. It lost its cool well before you realized it.
Personalized ringtones are the "I'm with stupid" of the new millennium.
Tribune Internet critic Steve Johnson tossed off a similar observation about ringtones last week in his Hypertext blog--"Never cute," he wrote. "Never funny."--and I simply would have agreed and moved on to the next extremely urgent topic but for one thing: I have a personalized ring tone.
It's an instrumental version of the chorus of "Stand by Your Man," Tammy Wynette's over-the-top 1968 country hit that's so cheerfully sexist I fancy that it has great camp value. Just about the last song that an enlightened person would have on his phone, don't you know.
Yet I die a little inside whenever it sounds in group settings. I know some who hear it will misunderstand the ironic intent; others will have heard the "joke" already and be tired of it; still others will hear only some vaguely schmaltzy tune. Two thoughts will strike them.
First: "What a doofus."
Second: "That's not my phone."
It's this second thought that's important. It's this second thought that provides a very sensible reason to have a personalized ringtone: In crowded settings, when the "vibrate" mode won't do, it's very useful to be able to tell, in an instant, when it's your phone going off and when it's someone else's.
Remember the confusion in the late 1990s when many cell phones had the same generic ring that caused mass startling and groping through bags at restaurants, offices and parties? It wasn't until May 2000 that the Tribune ran its first story about "what is known in the cell phone business as a `ring melody'" and advised that newer phones "incorporate anywhere from 5 to 30 choices of ring tones and melodies."
Now? Americans will spend $676 million in 2006 to buy ringtones, according to the projections of Yankee Group Research Inc., a Boston company that tracks the industry. Yankee Group says that figure will hit $2 billion in 2009.
Many users own dozens and, by assigning them to different incoming callers, they create a custom form of audio caller ID. This is another excellent, wholly non-lame reason for having personalized ringtones.
So there's the problem: It's easy for the person who aspires to a certain level of sophistication to avoid goofy T-shirts, vanity plates and other basically useless "Hey, look at me, I'm unique!" affectations and adornments.
But there's no opting out and disdaining the trend here. If you have a cell phone, you've got to have a ring of some sort.
And all rings--even the factory-setting ring or the sounds-like-an-old-telephone-bell ring--now, inevitably, are a statement of some sort. Usually, alas, not the one you're hoping to make.
Are there exceptions? Ringtones that intrigue, delight and impress even after multiple playings? Ringtones that walk that fine line between trite and incomprehensible? Ringtones that prove Steve Johnson wrong?
Reader J.T. said the "Benny Hill Show" theme (the manic "Yakety Sax") "never fails to crack people up." She may be right. Elle said her phone barks like a Chihuahua when someone calls, and that works for her. She may be wrong.
Greg said his phone noodles "Play that Funky Music (White Boy)." He is wrong. http://blogs.chicagotribune.com/news...by_your_t.html