January 24, 2006

Using Your Cell to Express Yourself

Filed under: Art and About the Everyday — admin @ 9:49 pm

I am not a cell phone person. I was given my first cell phone as a teenager to be used for emergencies and I still carry my phone for emergencies only. Sometimes the emergency is needing to call my husband to tell him the cutest piece of furniture at the thrift store needs a good home. But other than that, I don’t use it to make calls and no one calls me on it because they know I probably won’t answer.

Cell phones have gotten pretty artsy in recent years, and I’m not talking about the whimsically colored and patterned phone your teenager is carrying. The variety of phone rings in the world is astounding. Peripherally, I hear the individualized rings polluting the sound space around me. I never considered them more than a nuisance or outright irritating, depending on the place the phone was ringing. I growl when someone tells an “amusing” story about how he was at the movies and at the emotional peak of the film, his cell phone suddenly rings “Beat It.” I’m all for individual expression, but not every time is the right time to stand out.

For the last few months I’ve been borrowing another person’s cell phone. Since I am not a cell phone person, I did not bother to change the ring when I got it. I never heard it ring before receiving it, and for the first two months it sat silently in my purse. Then one day I was driving by myself when samba music started to play. I couldn’t help myself as I started car dancing while trying to mental locate where the music was coming from. By the time I realized it was my phone, it stopped samba-ing. It was a lilting few moments, and then life moved on.

Several weeks later, my husband and I were cleaning up the kitchen when the samba started again. It still took me a second to remember what it was. My completely befuddled husband exclaimed, “What is that?!” While his eyes scanned the room for the responsible technology, I noticed he couldn’t stop his arms and legs from samba-ing. I said it was my phone and he laughed. It was not a ring he associated with me and he wasn’t surprised to learn I hadn’t chosen it. Still, the ring transformed an uninteresting chore into an impromptu samba session for a minute or two.

I have to admit, I’m hearing more rings in line at the supermarket or when standing at the pump at the gas station that make me smile. There are some good rings out there. My husband, who is the polar opposite of me when it comes to the cell phone realm, told me a story that indicates these rings are prompting discussions about whether a person’s audible identity as reflected by his cell ring matches his public image. Matt was testing a new service provider by carrying his sister’s cell for a few days. It rang “Mozart” at work and his coworkers commented on the mismatch. My husband made the fascinating observation that he didn’t really like the Mozart because he wanted a “phone to sound like a phone.” My husband’s regular cells rings two rings, one identifying someone calling from work and another for the rest of the world. To my ears, both these rings are musical and don’t sound in the least like a phone “should.” Even the definition of a phone ring is expanding while it becomes more individualized.

It seems that if an iPod helps you express who you are to yourself inside your headphones, cell phone rings have become a sound identity outside your mind, almost an accessory item like jewelry. We’re all characters in “Peter and the Wolf” with a personal melody to accompany our journey through life’s daily adventures. Bubbly extroverts choose ear-catching jazzy numbers. Someone with a more subtle approach to life chooses more mellow tones. A teenager doesn’t have to have the same ring as her stodgy parents. A cell phone can even express our effervescent inside selves in a “safe” way when our reserved outside demeanor gives away few clues.

Obviously, I am beginning to appreciate cell phones as communication devices beyond the power to transmit your voice from here to there. You still better only call me if you are on fire, though.

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