It happened so quickly it was embarrassing. First came the option to select one of 40 ringtone
s on your Nokia
phone so your ring wouldn't be confused with others. Then Nokia realised that, like an album, most people only liked one or two of the tunes ('Charleston' and 'Samba' spring to mind). So the 'Composer' feature was invented, and mayhem ensued. In fact I'm pretty sure Nokia wasn't the first to implement this - it was Ericsson
with their "2 lines of 11 characters are enough for anyone".
Anyway - it was Nokia who implemented the sending-ringtones-by-sms feature. And, within a few months, there were small advertisments in cheap magazines (in Europe, at least) advertising premium rate numbers. You phone up, give them your mobile number, and they send a ringtone directly to your phone. Great idea. Everyone wanted a cool ringtone of the latest dance hit.
Everyone also witnessed the rise and rise of the premium rate ringtone line advertisment. They worked their way up, through local papers, national papers, backs of glossy magazines, full-page on national newspapers. All this advertising real-estate is used to list hundreds and hundreds of... well, dance hits. And occasionally the odd football chant. Now the ads are on busses and plastered all over the best-selling magazines. There are at the very least 10 separate companies, all offering the same ringtones for download over your phone. Will you choose Mobile Mania Madness or Rockin' Ringtone Rampage?
The gradual increase in prominence of these adverts is a testament to the obscene amount of money these companies must rake in. The phone call costs £1/min, $1/min, whatever, and "Calls last a maximum of 3.5 minutes". I've never phoned one personally, but the typical call goes "Hello, you have reached.... (half a minute description of the service)... (spoken list of hundreds of songs)". "You have chosen ringtone number 2....... 3.......... 7. If you want to choose ringtone number 2....... 3....... 7......, please press 1."
You enter your phone number. "Your phone number was ...... 0..... 8..... 6........ 2..... 5..... (etc). If 0..... 8..... 6.... (etc) is really your phone number, press 1." Delay as much as possible. And people still do it. They want to have the best, most up-to-date, most popular ringtone there is. We're back to the same problem: ringtones are indistinguishable from each other. They're all the same Eminem or Backstreet Boys hit.
But now it's become much worse. If you shell out $5 for a ringtone, are you going to answer it after the first few notes? Of course not - no one will hear it in all its glory. So now people purposely let their phone finish playing its melody before answering. Seriously. This is a problem with society. Not everyone does it, but enough people do to make it noticeable. And you thought you felt like throttling them after hearing the first few notes?
Personally, I use the most basic, pre-programmed 'ring-ring' on my phone. It doesn't piss anyone off - they've heard it at home all their lives. I don't get confused - everyone else is happy with their annoying little £5 ringtones.