Engadget points to this Boston Globe editorial about an up and coming feature in cellphones: ringback tones. Although I agree with the writer that personalized ring tones are annoying (having a top 40 single as your ring tone does not automatically make it cool), the article is Luddite in tone. But why does the writer dislike the idea of ringback tones? Because they are useless, just like the other features of a cellphone:

The cellphone, which started life as a basic communications tool, is now also a camera, stockbroker, banker, video game purveyor, movie house, and stereo.

I own a relatively simplistic phone: the LG VX3100. It does not have a color screen, much less a camera. The only customizable ring tones that the phone can use are those that come preinstalled (which include eminent selections of international songs like "Korea Folk" and "March Militaire"). Due to the relatively low frequency at which people call me, I might even hesitate to call my phone a "communications tool."

But just because I do not have various features on my phone does not mean I think they are useless. A cellphone is about the size of a digital camera, so it makes sense to combine the two devices. From this convergence, it seems a natural progression for video to be added.

If you, dear reader, are like the author of the editorial in believing that phones should be phones (and nothing else, regardless of convenience), you should still allow for personalized ring tones (notwithstanding the annoyance that they can be). Due to the limited number of cell phone providers, it only makes sense that all Verizon phones should not sound the same. At Harvard, for example, I know three other people who also have the VX3100, and several who use Verizon. Although I mainly use the vibration mode on my phone, I still reach for it whenever I hear a similar ring tone.

But what is the usefulness of ringback tones? The number for my cell phone previously belonged to a young man named Carmine. Due to the obvious differences in our names, I must assume that the messages that are left for him in my voicemail are an result of the hectic times we live in; people use the time during answering machine messages not to check that they are calling the right phone, but to consider what they are going to say when they leave a message (all of the messages Carmine recieves are very articulate, as if they had been practiced). If both Carmine and I had unique ringback tones, those amount of wrong messages would be decreased. Even though cell phone number portability virtually ensures that future Carmines will keep their old numbers, reducing the number of "recycling" that occurs (despite the fact that hilarity can sometimes occur as a result), "wrong numbers" will continue to be part of telephoning well into the future, or at least until our cell phones include wrong-number correction as a feature.