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How Ringtones Grab Your Attention

Smartphone ringtones effect on usSource: Pixabay

You probably have a ringtone picked out for your phone. Something unique, recognisable, and triggering an instinctive reaching response from your hand. In most cases these days, it’s rare that two phones have the same ringtone. At least not two in the same place, at the same time.

But it was not so long ago that many phones sounded almost identical. Back when having the freedom to choose your own ringtone was not commonplace, and most simply stuck with the default. These were the days when half of all phones on earth sounded like the Samsung Whistle, and the other half sounded like the iPhone Marimba. They were dark days, of course, since a phone going off in a crowded place could have literally dozens of people all reaching for their phones at the same time. Recently, iPhone announced that a new default ringtone was coming to their range of phones, and the public response was unsurprisingly mixed.

What Makes A Good Ringtone?

We live in an age where we can send emails on the fly, chat to friends on the go and an endless supply of casino games are available in your pocket 24/7. The immense power of smartphones is almost beyond the comprehension of the average person, especially since the device’s primary function is sending and receiving kitten memes. The question is; given all this power, why do ringtones still sound insufferably annoying?

Probably because ringtones are designed to be annoying. Taking the Marimba as an example, the little tune is specifically designed to be hard to miss. Listen to it closely and pay attention to the fact that the notes wholly don’t harmonise with one another, at least in a traditional way. In other words; it’s a bad song. The same can be said for the Samsung Whistle, or that grating Nokia tune that became such a signature sound of the late 90’s. But at the same time, efforts are made to make the wonky tune friendly and inviting.

Why? Because a ringtone is not supposed to be ignored, and something off key and therefore irksome shakes your brain up, and demands its attention. But at the same time, you’re also not supposed to loath the sound, hence the attempts to make it pleasant. A ringtone should be something distinctive too, and many people have even downloaded apps that let them make their own, or use specific songs for specific callers, such as a favourite love song for a partner, or family-friendly tune that signifies parents calling,

Attention grabbing ringtonesSource: Pixabay

New iPhone Ringtone Just Like The Old

The new iPhone ringtone follows the same basic rules as the old. Unharmonious, recognisable, and friendly. Thousands have already taken to the Internet to express their love or hate for it, but chances are it won’t be long until subways, building lobbies and work environments will be flooded with the tune, until it quickly becomes as mundane as the last.

For a glorious while, though, it will surely have dozens reaching for their phones in unison. At least until people start changing it again.

Pavlov’s Dog

You likely know the story of Pavlov’s dog. That’s the guy who trained his dog to salivate upon hearing a bell, because the animal associated the sound with being fed. Phone ringtones are designed in the same way. Not to make you salivate, but instead to anticipate social attention. Your phone ringing means that someone needs your attention, and everybody likes feeling validated.

Hence, a ringtone has quickly become something to be excited about, or at least anticipated. So what we have is a situation where a hard to miss, recognisable tone is a Pavlov’s dog effect for validation. Or perhaps that’s just overanalysing a catchy, annoying tone that has the power to grab your attention and direct it straight to your mobile phone!