It’s Your Mother Calling

By | November 29, 2007

A few people have asked for the transcript of yesterday’s commentary on the BBC’s World Business Daily about getting your  mother’s voice to be your ringtone. It follows below, and here’s the (still active) link to the actual program from whence it came. Thanks for listening, and to the crew at Business Daily for their excellent impression of my mother’s voice. It sounds scarily like her. 

audio Listen to Wednesday’s Edition

Updated at 08:32 GMT on Wednesday

The growing spectre of inflation – as elections approach in Russia, how long can the government hold down rising food prices?

and mobile phone RING TONES – what would really grab your attention – how about the voice of your mother – telling you off?


Ringtones on cellphones have long since graduated from beeps into full fledged polyphonic symphonies. And it’s long driven me nuts.

I was on a bus the other day and the guy in front had his handset volume set so loud that when his phone rang he was so disconcerted he couldn’t turn it off. The mindless ditty he had chosen as his preferred form of alert blasted through the bus as he fumbled with the off switch. At least he bothered fumbling. Some people I notice love their ringtone so much they spend a few contented moments listening to it before picking up. This is a variation on the older theme where people stare at their ringing phone apparently mulling whether it’s worth answering. Songs as ringtones are like someone suddenly turning on a radio full-blast and then just as suddendly turning it off. At best you’re relieved your morning reverie is possible again, at worst you’re annoyed you can’t remember what song the snippet of music belonged to, and are stuck the whole day humming a snatch of a best forgotten ditty.

There has to be a better way for ringtones to be less intrusive and yet audible enough to the user so they actually hear it. My solution is simple. I read somewhere that the US Air Force in the 1950s was experimenting with early versions of synethesized voices delivering cockpit warnings. What they found was that a pilot was much more likely to hear an important instruction if the voice used was the pilot’s mother. You can just imagine a disembodied voice saying “Pull up, you silly boy!” just as she might have said “Pull up your socks, you silly boy!” Who wouldn’t pull up under such conditions?

So this is what I propose. When I buy my phone, I hand it over to my mother and have her call out my name at a reasonable volume. That recording becomes my ringtone. Trust me, I’m always going to recognise her voice, across the room, across town, across continents. Mothers’ voices have that kind of quality.

Why would this work so well on phones? Well I may hear my mother’s voice in the middle of a crowded and noisy rave, but everyone else? Unless they’re called Jeremy, it won’t register. If they are called Jeremy, it’s unlikely the voice is going to have quite the same impact. I will know my phone’s ringing. No one else is disturbed, because people are yelling out other people’s names all the time.

This is easy enough to do, by the way: Most phones let you record something and turn it into a ringtone. There are even websites that let you upload sound files and turn them into ringtones. But even better would be to set up a service that let mothers send recordings of themselves to the phones of their offsprings — without them knowing. I’d love to see the son’s expression when he hears his mother’s voice calling him from his pocket. I suspect he’d pick up pretty darn quick.

BBC World Service | Business Daily

One thought on “It’s Your Mother Calling

  1. Tom Griffiths

    Congratulations on some original thinking, Jeremy, or at least putting together two disparate ideas, which is so often how innovation occurs, of course.

    Who knows whether it will catch on – I doubt it – but it struck enough (vocal) chords in the UK to make the broadcast and printed media fairly widely.


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