My Toothbrush and My Cell Phone

by Moshe Yudkowsky

My toothbrush is one of the most "identity-locked" objects I own — no one uses my toothbrush except me. You can borrow my sweater, my car, or the shirt off my back, but not my toothbrush.

While disposable to a great degree, mobile phones have a similar aura of personal identity about them. Like many people I carry my cell phone at all times, an indispensable bit of personal property, almost more crucial than my wallet. Many people personalize their phones with special covers, carrying cases, and with ringtones. Ringtones, amazingly, have come an expression of your personality; you not only play them for yourself but for everyone around you, and a ringtone is part of your public persona just like your clothing and hairstyle.

I just saw a mention in a colleague's blog about a scheme by AT&T to modify ringtones — to put advertising in ringtones. No comment necessary about that idea...

Cross-posted from The Pebble and the Avalanche


Bruce Stewart
2006-11-10 14:02:05
I saw that story about ads in ringtones too, and have similar disdain for the idea. Hard to imagine that could be an effective advertising medium, but I do wonder how many people would let their wireless carrier determine their ringtone, which would include their or some sponsor's jingle, for a reduced monthly rate or some extra minutes added to their plan?
Moshe Yudkowsky
2006-11-10 14:18:23
My spouse and I speculated about this, and our conclusion was that this was pretty far fetched.

We came up with the following analogy: Imagine if when you brought your clothes to the cleaners, it came back with patches sewn on to advertise a local dentist's office.

Business people would never accept this. Gen {X,Y,Z,...} would find the corporate-selected ringtones decidely uncool. The rest of the populace isn't interesting enough to marketers, I'd think.

But I have learned to never underestimate the determination of marketing organizations.... Given the nearly monopolistic corporate structure of cellular service, I am not certain what will happen.

2007-11-15 16:45:27
Does anyone offer prepaid plans where I supply my phone and they supply the service?
Moshe Yudkowsky
2007-11-16 09:13:39
Casey, I have yet to run across such a company. The current business model across all companies is for cell phone companies to charge you for the cell phone and the service in a single monthly fee; and then, when the cell phone is paid off, to keep that monthly fee just as high.

If there's a cell phone carrier with decent service that has an alternative business model, I'd love to hear about it.