The Personality of Ring Tones

David Todd McCarty

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There was a time when all ringing phones pretty much sounded the same. There might have been slight differences between your home phone and your office phone, but the sound of a ringing phone was fairly universal. Then came the cell phone, and soon after, the ability to choose your own ring tone.

At first, we weren’t given a lot of options, but still, out of the half dozen or so choices, you could pick the one that felt unique to you. Pretty soon companies started adding options and new ring tones, and for a brief moment in time, they started selling us ring tones.

When your phone rings, it says a lot more about you than you probably realize. Are you the sort of person others might call basic, who could care less what the ring tone is, and therefore have never changed it from the default? You might not even know how to change it, but more importantly, simply don’t care.

You might be of a different class of people who have gone to the trouble of learning how to download a song of your choice, something very specific to you. Maybe it’s a bit of 90s hip hop or 60s rock. It could be the theme song to an old television show that you find ironic or nostalgic, or it could be a line from a movie you find poignant or amusing. It might be a new song or an old song, or it might not even be a song at all. But when it rings, the people around you have some insight into who you are as a person.

But there is a deeper meaning that you might not even be aware of, and that is the fact that your phone is ringing at all. The sound of your phone is the very thing that alerts everyone to the fact that you’re old, like a big, blinking, neon sign. This little tidbit alone pegs you as being someone of a certain age.

For the millennials and younger, who came of age, digitally-native—gripping cell phones before they could walk, and navigating screens before they could talk—they are on their phones constantly, but largely silently. They have had to deal with nosey teachers and parents and other adults who told them to get off their phones, so they learned to be quiet about it.

If their phones made noises for every alert that came across the transom, the cacophony of sound would be unbearable, and would also give them away. So they turn them off, the sound, not the phone. Their phones are silent, which is why, as often as not, they don’t answer them when you call.

Of course, they don’t think of their phones as primarily a device to speak into, to begin with. They communicate, using all manner of methods that include video, sound, images, and text, but it’s more like a small production facility than anything resembling the phone of yesteryear. They might produce an entire video, complete with VoiceOver, music, art cards, and sound effects, but they don’t use it to call a friend.

I’ve had young people respond to a question with a video of them answering, which they sent via text, but they wouldn’t have bothered to call me.

You’re not going to change them, and they’re unlikely to change you, so go ahead and let your freak flag fly, blast your Macy Gray and your Sweet Home Alabama, your Arnold Schwarzenegger quote, or your Beavis and Butthead sound effects. It’s all good.

Just go ahead and embrace the idea that you’re a stronger person for having grown up playing on rusty metal playground equipment and no seat belts, and turn your phone up as high as it goes, so you can hear it. Embrace the ever expanding universe.

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Writer, Director, Photographer, Designer, and Journalist. I am endlessly curious about politics, street food, photography, and garden gnomes.

Cape May Court House, NJ
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