In Memoriam: The Ringtone

3595I remember my first polyphonic ringtone. I got my new Nokia cell phone with the interchangeable hard case and its color screen for Christmas and could not wait to break it open, go online and chose a ringtone. Polyphonic ringtones were all the rage at the time. No longer did you have to suffer through the intolerable midi note-by-note rendition of your favorite pop song, but you could now have a bassline and a melody. Right and left hands simultaneously. Sure, it was still midi and sounded like a bad karaoke track, but it was POLYPHONIC.

No matter that we had never heard the word polyphonic before this and would never use it again after the fad faded, polyphonic was the holy grail of personalization.

Your ringtone was an extension of yourself. It announced to the world (loudly), 'here I am, and I listen to Fall Out Boy, and I think that is an acceptable representation of my taste in music and therefore personality.' Then people could judge you accordingly. Especially if your phone rang during something like graduation or church or English class (my English teacher took it upon himself to answer your phone for you if it rang. It was horrifying.).

I did not take this decision lightly.

I remember it well. We were at my grandparents' house in Calgary, Alberta (Canada, for those of you who are not Mandie Marie or one of my relatives). My parents had brought some of our presents up for us to open and the phone was one of them. I went over to my grandparents' PC and carefully selected my brand of individualism: "The Remedy" by Jason Mraz.

I'm not proud of that choice, but I'm not exactly ashamed. It definitely could have been worse.

Ringtones eventually progressed into ACTUAL CLIPS OF SONGS, which didn't really work that well because you couldn't tell if it was just music playing over the speakers of the restaurant you were at, or if your phone was ringing. We eventually tuned in to the frequencies of what it sounded like for crappy samsung speakers to be playing a 30 second clip of a pop song, so much so that we often thought we heard a phone ringing when in fact, it was just the music, or some high pitched white noise, or phantom ringing like that thing when your arm gets cut off but you can still feel it itch. I assume.

You would think the rise of smart phones would take that to the next level -- upgrading to FULL songs or like, holograms of your favorite musicians popping out of your purse and singing to you that you have an incoming call. But in light of all the other cool things smart phones can do, ringtones fell by the wayside. Who cares about updating your ringtone every six months so that yours is not painfully outdated when you can do things like the INTERNET?

I made the switch to a plain ringer before I had a smart phone, but that was because I was tired of having to pick out a ringtone. It was such a meaningful decision and I didn't care enough to put that much effort into it. (Making decisions is hard for me.)

I think another reason ringtones fell away is because people became less interested in making their phone scream their personality. I like to have a case on mine to somewhat reflect my style and differentiate it from others' phones, but with the iPhone, most people just accepted that all our phones would look the same and no one really cared because again, INTERNET. And NO BUTTONS.

Think about the last time you heard a cell phone ring. Was it anything other than that old-timey phone ring (android has this as well) or the calypso drums that come on the iPhone? Probably not. I hear the same ring as my phone on a daily basis.

So I'd like to take a moment to remember the ringtone and all it meant to my adolescence. Thank you, ringtone, for allowing me to declare to everyone who I thought I was without actually having to tell them. Thank you for allowing me to judge others within just 2-3 seconds of hearing their phone ring. Thank you for all the embarrassing and hilarious moments of cell phones blaring "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" in churches, weddings, and English classes around the country (but mostly the South).

You had a good run, and we will all miss you. Talk to us again when you figure out that whole hologram thing. Dibs on Beyonce.

What was your most memorable ringtone?