Have Cell Phone Rings Gone Too Far? Can it really have come to this? A proposal to regulate cell phone ringtones in New York City? Some might call the proposal laughable. We'll leave it to you to decide how foolish an issue it has become.
NPR logo

Have Cell Phone Rings Gone Too Far?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/9210663/9210933" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Have Cell Phone Rings Gone Too Far?


If there's one thing you can't get in New York City, it's silence.

Unidentified Man: Oscar Meyer, Oscar Meyer hot dogs!

HANSEN: Now some legislators think that New York has heard too much of one sound.

(Soundbite of cell phone ringtones)

HANSEN: Last month, the Center for Reduction of Noise Pollution issued a public call to action in New York City. The group is responding to an increasing number of confrontations spawned by a new phenomenon called ring rage: strangers getting into fights over obnoxious cell phone ringtones.

David Yassky is a member of the New York City Council for the 33rd District in Brooklyn. He's proposed a bill to regulate cell phone ringtones, and he's in our New York Bureau. Welcome to the program.

Mr. DAVID YASSKY (Member, 33rd District, New York City Council): Thank you for having me.

HANSEN: What exactly are you proposing?

Mr. YASSKY: Well, this bill will require New Yorkers to choose among four rings. The city will provide four rings, and New Yorkers will have to choose one of them for their phone.

HANSEN: Why are you proposing this? Is it just distracting, the cell phone rings?

Mr. YASSKY: Well, it's more than distracting, Liane. You mentioned the study recently released by the Center for Reduction of Noise Pollution. That showed that just - this year alone, we have over a hundred percent increase in incidents of ring rage, that there were 150 this year to date. You do the math, it's not pretty. And everyone knows how obnoxious it can be to hear cell phone rings in public.

HANSEN: The bill would give New Yorkers, then, their choice of four sanctioned ring tones; how did you decide on the tones?

Mr. YASSKY: Liane, we assembled a panel of audiologists. These are scientists who study the effect that sounds have on the ear and the psyche, and they determined a list of characteristics that a non-imposing cell phone ring would have. Then we put them together with the sound engineer, and he composed four rings that I think people would find are not just scientifically but to their ears the most palatable.

HANSEN: Well, let's play a few.

(Soundbite of cell phone ringtone)

Mr. YASSKY: I love this one.

(Soundbite of cell phone ringtone)

Mr. YASSKY: This is, you know, New York is the city of the future.

(Soundbite of cell phone ringtone)

Mr. YASSKY: And this one's, kind of, more of a power ringtone.

(Soundbite of cell phone ringtone)

Mr. YASSKY: The hedge fund folks.

(Soundbite of cell phone ringtone)

HANSEN: Councilman Yassky, we played these ringtones for some New Yorkers, and I wanted you to hear their reaction.

Unidentified Man #1: I think it's ridiculous, especially with the younger people. It's more of a cultural thing than, you know, an actual ring in itself.

Unidentified Woman #1: I'd like to know who the company is that probably got the contract that generated the - only four songs that you'll be allowed to play in New York City.

Unidentified Woman #2: It's not the point to be arguing about right now. The number of ring tones on people's cell phones is not a major issue and shouldn't be worried about.

Unidentified Man #2: Just four - I think they should ban it altogether in public, I mean, like on buses and subways and movie theaters. Every time I go to the movies, there's somebody on the phone, like, checking his messages. It's very annoying.

HANSEN: Well, you seem to have gotten three nays and one yea.

Mr. YASSKY: Well, look, Liane, you can always find people that complain about any change. But, you know, first of all, it's not just the noise pollution. This is very costly to our economy. We estimate that distracting ringtones in the work place and then the arguments and joking that goes along with that cost our economy more than $1.2 billion a year. And, you know, people - when we did the Pooper-Scooper law, we did the smoking ban, we banned trans fats - first, you know, people objected, but then they realized just how valuable these laws can be.

HANSEN: So you don't think it's too extreme?

Mr. YASSKY: Oh, not at all. I think New York will prove to be a model. Once we do this, I think you'll see these in cities across the country.

HANSEN: So if this bill passes, what happens if someone doesn't use one of the four approved rings?

Mr. YASSKY: Well, you know, we chose not to put in an imprisonment punishment. But there will be hefty fines. We have the finest police department in the country. We have health inspectors, sanitation inspectors, consumer affairs inspectors. We have a very adequate enforcement team to get out there and make sure that New Yorkers are doing their duty.

HANSEN: David Yassky is a member of the New York City Council for the 33rd District in Brooklyn. He's proposed a bill to regulate cell phone ringtones. And if this bill passes the New York City Council, it will go into effect one year from today, April 1st, 2008. Councilman Yassky, thanks for your time.

Mr. YASSKY: Thank you again, Liane.

(Soundbite of song, "New York, New York")

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.