ringtones - iphone
*I don’t know Jill, but she sounds like one ungrateful woman.

She didn’t appreciate the surprise 40th birthday party her friends threw her. If she did—-not just “thank you,” but a real show of gratitude, damn it—-then she had a mighty strange way of showing it.

Jill rags on her mother for not getting out more and then refuses to give mom a lift to Poetry Night….

Like most patrons in the crowded post office that afternoon, I heard these revelations about somebody named Jill because the guy near the front of the long line talked on his cell as if he were in his bathroom.

So casually obnoxious was he that not following the conversation would have been an act of neglect. So we listened. All of us.

That box with him? It’s going to a friend who recently relocated to Singapore and can’t find Dial soap there. When the loud man leaves the post office, he’ll head to the gym. Maybe. He’ll see how he feels.

Something told me the man would be this guy, unaware and unrepentantly audible. The tip-off? In the seconds before he opened his mouth, there was his ringtone.

And nothing against ’70s disco. I dug plenty of it. But there was disco and then there was this generic, soulless, plastic shit that sounds as if it were made in a test kitchen by people wearing white coats who awakened one morning and said, Hey, let’s make some disco! That was the fanfare emanating from this man’s pants pocket.

I couldn’t know a cat like this. If we ever had a disagreement, somehow, no matter the subject, I’d find my way back to carping about his ringtone. It wouldn’t be fair.

I didn’t know how I felt about Jill, but I despised this man. I exaggerate. But not by much. You had to hear this ringtone.


Our clothes, our choice of music, our friends, the car we drive, our hairdo, what we do with our time and our lives. Our pets. All the things we use and love become expressions of who we are.

Same goes for ringtones.

In a smartphone-addicted world, the ringtone is a sonic tattoo in which we take uncommon pride. Ask a friend (or a stranger) about theirs. They’ll want to discuss the reason for choosing it, what makes theirs unique, what they were gonna use before settling on that one and what they might move on to next.

Are you fun? Serious? Sexy? Consider yourself quirky? cultured? eclectic? Whatever you think of you, we’re going to know the minute your phone rings.

There are digital farts, barking dogs. For my money, any ringtone associated with “Star Wars” or the other fantasy movie franchises is infinitely corny.

How small am I? I judge people by their ringtone. You do, too, and you know it. Strangers in an airport terminal, hotel lobby or the produce section can find instant camaraderie in the collective sneer and snickering at a cheesy ringtone.

Likewise, the only thing I remember about a TV commercial from last year was the guy, in a train station or somewhere, desperately working to answer his cellphone before it played more of Haddaway’s ubiquitous “What Is Love (Baby Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more)”.

Reading this, you may be curious about my own ringtone. I’m going to tell you anyway: my ringtone is silence. Nothing.
I’ve never heard a cellphone of mine ring, ever. At the risk of sounding stone age, the random ringing of bodies is still wierd to me.

I used to vibrate, but even that makes sound, so I turned it off. When you call me, you’re not being announced by the bongo percussion-fueled patter of Fred Flintstone’s running feet or superhero swooshes or Shangri-La-ing of any sort.

The downside is if I don’t actually see a call, it goes straight to voice mail. Consider: Just two iphones ago (both out-modeled when I got them), I was using a flip phone. In public, no less. Look at who now (de)grades ringtones. That’s snobbery on another level, baby.

I’m not alone. The man in the post office received so many calls that every time his hideous ringtone went off, two young women wearing nose rings and pink and purple hair took to playfully dancing in place.

Being just two customers away from him, you’d think the man would have noticed the ladies’ teasing, but no. How could he? You can’t be conscious and use that ringtone. You just can’t.

steve ivory (for front page)

Steven Ivory

Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]