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ISSUE 118 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/5/2004

Ringtones list reeks of absurdity

By Peter Gloviczki
Opinion Editor

Friday, November 5, 2004

We are a nation obsessed with competition. A few days after one neighbor mows his lawn, everyone else on the block proceeds to do the same. This desire for competition - the drive to be "better than the next guy," manifests itself in a number of ways.

From the simplest form of competition (the sprint), we have evolved, in fact devolved, into hot dog-eating contests, wrestling in a tub of pudding and most recently, ranking cellphone ringtones. A ringtone, of course, is the cellphone sound for an incoming call.

Recently, the Billboard organization, which compiles "Top 200" for a variety of musical genres, announced that on Nov. 6 it will release a list of the country's most popular ring tones  sorted by total sales.

Ringtones can be bought on the Internet or directly from cellular phone service providers, such as T-Mobile and AT&T Wireless. Each ringtone generally costs between one and two dollars, and ringtone sales have become big business.

As Lucio Guerrero of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote in an Oct. 28 article: "U.S. cell phone owners spent more than $75 million on ring tones in 2003."

The ringtone has long been a way in which users "express themselves." As a passionate baseball fan, my ringtone is the hallowed sports anthem: "Charge!" Others choose popular hits from artists such as Britney Spears and Usher to alert them to an incoming call.

The benefits of selecting one's own ringtone are understandable, because ringtones allow the user to truly personalize his or her phone. Many people may have a particular brand of cell phone, but only a select few have "The Flintstones" theme as their ringtone.

The question, though, becomes: why is it necessary to rank ringtones according to popularity? Regardless of which ringtone is revealed as most popular in the upcoming survey, it will probably not entice me to buy the "No. 1" ringtone.

Nonetheless, the rating system will be there. We will learn whether cell-phone users prefer Ashlee Simpson or Toby Keith, and whether the Beatles are more popular with users than The Who.

I have to admit I probably will sneak a peek to see which ringtone America selects as most popular. I want to know whether America loves Usher, U2, The Rolling Stones, The Dixie Chicks or someone else althogether.

Like the morbid fascination of watching a car accident or a natural disaster, many of us  myself included  just can't help but look.

The nation's top ringtone probably won't lead to any earth-shattering developments, but we'll still take interest.

We'll take interest just like when millions of viewers tuned in to see whether the next American Idol would be Ruben Studdard or Clay Aiken. On the surface, this top ranking list seems superficial, but the presence of the list points towards a larger cultural phenomenon.

Although the "top ringtones" list itself has no immediate bearing on our lives, it represents our unyielding human desire for competition. We want to measure, quite simply, who is the best  even if we are measuring a collection of beeps emitted from our cellphones.

Opinions editor Peter Gloviczki is a junior from Rochester, Minn. He majors in political science and journalistic ethics.

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