I bet the germ of the idea of personalized ringtones dates back to the era when people used to agonize over what music to play in the background while they recorded their outgoing answering machine greetings, just so potential callers could be wowed by how eclectic their tastes were ("Wow, Steve's really into esoteric Krautrock! Who knew?") Taken to the logical extreme, now people can have their own cell phones play snippets of their favorite songs (or songs that they feel best represent their groovy lifestyle to anyone within ear-shot who might give a damn) instead of simply a conventional ringing. I suppose it's not really that different from wearing a band t-shirt or putting up a poster that aligns one with their favorite artist. It's a cultural identifier that says: "hey world, check this out! I like this stuff!"
By the same token, however, one cannot always control when one's phone is going to ring (just ask Clive Davis). I mean, yeah, they could turn the ringtone off, I suppose, but then what's the point of having it in the first place? In any case, there are invariably going to be situations when you're not prepared to have your cell phone start ringing, let alone play a shrill rendition of "The Humpty Dance" by Digital Underground (or whatever). Personally speaking, I cannot stand owning a cell phone, but my own circumstances -- being both a parent and an employee perpetually on call -- demand that I do. Apart from my colleagues at work and my family, very few people have my number. As such, when my cell phone does ring, nine times out of ten, it's going to be something unexpected, something urgent and/or -- in a worst case scenario -- bad news. So while I'd otherwise think it'd be funny for my cell phone to play the opening ominous notes of Killing Joke's "Requiem" or the opening, frantic wail from "Mutiny in Heaven" by the Birthday Party, sooner or later, I'd start associating these sounds with something irritating, unwelcome and quite possibly unpleasant. Now why would I want to do that to my favorite music?
Moreover, I also think that excising the odd bit, hook or chorus from a song for the purposes of putting it on a ringtone does that song a disservice. I rode on a bus not too long ago and a guy next to me's cell phone started going off. The guy had his iPod headphones in so -- I gather -- didn't hear that his cell phone was playing the hook from Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" in seemingly endless, mind-numbing rotations. Hell, I even like that song, but now never wanna hear it again.
So, in short, I put it to you, dear reader: irritating ringtones -- let's cut that shit out, shall we? Thanks!