If I had been told that my seemingly insignificant choices made over ten years ago would hold profound value today, I am certain I would not have believed it. So it began on September 6th, 2005 when the power was finally vested in me to walk to school on my own and to carry money instead of the outdated brown paper bag for lunch. Most importantly, I became the proud owner of my very own cell phone. Receiving the shining silver Verizon LGVX5200 was a rite of passage, the opportunity to be a part of the alluring “lol” world. Yet my greatest excitement came from the fact that I now would experience the ever-so-delicate process of choosing the perfect ring-back tone. The ring-back tone was distinct from the better-known and better understood ringtone. It would be the melody to replace the canonical dial tone callers would hear when they were to call me. I was attached to the song; although only my friends and family would hear it, it was still representative of a choice I had made. It would have to impress the individual who had decided to call me, be memorable, and fulfill the key factor of “singability”. But most importantly, it could not cross the quivering, thin line between catchy and corny. Would it be the number one song on iTunes or one that was enjoyed at every Chuck – E- Cheese birthday party I had been to? I told myself no. In this fast-paced era, those chart-toppers faded out in a matter of weeks. The stakes were high, for I knew the perfect ring-back was paramount in the success of being a cell phone owner.
In my quest, I reminisced about the times my father would call me down from my room to sit on our big blue couch as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder played from the stereo. When the ritual first began, I would practically skip down the stairs in anticipation of the song I would hear that day. My ears became accustomed to the blaring Big Band sounds of Benny Goodman, to the profound and vulnerable vocals of Billie Holiday. As I grew older, my skipping graduated to a grudging walk in my teenage resentment over being pulled away from my laptop and of course, cell phone. But seeing my father’s excited smile as he said, “come here, listen to this!” persuaded me to take those few moments to just sit and listen. This memory led me to my perfect, unique ring-back: “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder. For the small price of $1.99 a year, the upbeat, Motown melody became the signature of a thirteen-year-old white girl from Westchester, New York. I knew I had triumphed in selection when I began to hear friends and family alike humming, “you can feel it all over, you can feel it all over people” whenever I picked up a call.
As I grew older and progressed into the wondrous high school halls, “Sir Duke” remained. It occurred to me one day that it was, in a word, crazy, for me to be attached to something as frivolous as this ring-back. Even more crazy was that it was not necessarily my favorite song of all time. So why was it important to me? I came to recognize that “Sir Duke” was not just a song for me but more so a source of comfort, floating between the modern world of electronics embodied in my cell phone and the timeless world of music found as my father and I listened to the celebrated masters of jazz and soul-pop. A choice that had initially gained importance for superficial reasons progressed into a source of deep value and a symbol of the person I was and still am becoming.