The end of phone calls: why young people have silenced their ringtones | Mobile phones | The Guardian


Name: Generation mute.

Age: 16-24.

I’m sorry. What did you say? [Whispers] Generation mute.

How am I supposed to hear you? Put me on vibrate!

I’m sorry? Bzzz bzzz bzzz.

What? Shh! Noise is over. Well, actually, loud ringtones are over. A survey by the tech analyst Sensor Tower has shown that the number of ringtone downloads slumped by almost a quarter in the UK between 2016 and 2020 – from 4.6m to 3.7m.

But what about mine? It goes a ring ding ding ding ding a ring ding ding dingdemgdemg a ring ding ding ding ding ring ding baa-baa … SHHH! What on earth is that racket?

That was the Crazy Frog from the early 00s, one of the most downloaded ringtones in the history of ringtones. Grossed $40m in 2004. No wonder people don’t want ringtones any more.

How about this one then: dadadada dadadada dadadadada daa (Nokia Gran Vals ringtone, circa 1994, if you don’t read music). The beeps! Awful!

You must know that one – made famous by a man named Dom Joly … had a giant phone on his head? Trigger Happy TV? Who?

Never mind. So, silly question, how are young people supposed to know when people are calling them if they can’t hear the phone ringing? Well, they don’t want people to call them. A 2017 Ofcom survey found that only 15% of 16- to 24-year-olds consider phone calls the most important method of communication.

But they’re always on their phones! Well, yes, but messaging each other. The same study found that 49% of teens were happy emailing, texting or instant messaging on apps such as WhatsApp with someone who was in the same room as them. And there are lots of different ways to message each other now.

Such as what?

HELLO? Oh, sorry, I was just sending an email to the person sitting next to me. You know: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, etc. Because younger people are looking at their phone screens a lot, they don’t need ringtones to know when someone is calling them. Analysts also said teenagers prefer to have their phone on vibrate or get messages and calls via their smartwatches or Fitbits, so their parents – or their teachers – don’t know what’s going on.

Teachers? But you shouldn’t be using a phone in … oh, I see. Also, it’s just a bit rude to have your phone ringing loudly in public.

Ring ding ding ding ding a ring ding ding dingdemgdemg a ring ding ding ding ding ring ding baa-baa … PARDON? Oh, it doesn’t matter.

Do say: “Shut up, boomer!”

Don’t say: HELLO! I’M ON THE TRAIN!”

… we have a small favour to ask. Tens of millions have placed their trust in the Guardian’s high-impact journalism since we started publishing 200 years ago, turning to us in moments of crisis, uncertainty, solidarity and hope. More than 1.5 million readers, from 180 countries, have recently taken the step to support us financially – keeping us open to all, and fiercely independent.

With no shareholders or billionaire owner, we can set our own agenda and provide trustworthy journalism that’s free from commercial and political influence, offering a counterweight to the spread of misinformation. When it’s never mattered more, we can investigate and challenge without fear or favour.

Unlike many others, Guardian journalism is available for everyone to read, regardless of what they can afford to pay. We do this because we believe in information equality. Greater numbers of people can keep track of global events, understand their impact on people and communities, and become inspired to take meaningful action.

We aim to offer readers a comprehensive, international perspective on critical events shaping our world – from the Black Lives Matter movement, to the new American administration, Brexit, and the world's slow emergence from a global pandemic. We are committed to upholding our reputation for urgent, powerful reporting on the climate emergency, and made the decision to reject advertising from fossil fuel companies, divest from the oil and gas industries, and set a course to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.

If there were ever a time to join us, it is now. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our journalism and sustains our future. Support the Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you.