Phantom Ringtones

I have a cell phone with a jazzy ringtone. It’s been ringing a lot recently, and I’ve become very attuned to its sound, especially the first three or four notes. Too attuned, actually. In noisy environments with any kind of musical tones present, there are likely to be a few faint notes that simulate some of the notes of my ringtone, and then I instinctively reach for my phone, only to find that it was a false alarm. This can happen with almost any kind of music except rap (no actual notes, I guess?). It doesn’t have to be formal music, either. The other day some of the random grunts, whistles, and rattlings of the loud air conditioning system at Appleton’s Avenue Mall made me reach for my cell phone several times while I was sitting in a “quiet” place.

Worried about my sanity, I walked into the Lindsay Do-It-Yourself Free Mental Health Prevention Clinic (a free service that is fully covered by my health insurance) and gave myself the surprise diagnosis: Phantom Ringtones. I’m not necessarily crazy, but suffer from the tendency to find or even imagine familiar notes in all sorts of settings, causing me to think that I’m hearing a familiar tune when it is really something else. Wow, I’m suffering from Phantom Ringtone Disorder. The doc, a somewhat shady character, said he’s not sure he remembers what the cure is, but if I upgraded from the free service to his very expensive weekly therapy sessions, it would come back to him.

Phantom Ringtone Disorder, the ability to falsely recognize your own ringtone from faint noises around you, often occurs when we are not close to the source and aren’t really paying attention. If we were closer and listening carefully, we might have less trouble distinguishing background music or the whinings of machines from the ringtones we use.

Phantom Ringtone Disorder can affect both sides of religious discussions. For example, in discussing the scriptures, it’s easy for us Latter-day Saints to see a few words that resonate with LDS themes and think the verse is “playing our song.” And it’s easy for Latter-day Saints to get excited about some discovery or legend from Peru or Canada or elsewhere and find parallels to the Book of Mormon, when the timing and location may make it not highly relevant to anything in the Book of Mormon. Sometimes a few of our faith promoting rumors, discoveries, or even experiences might really be Phantom Ringtones, in a sense.

It’s also easy to see symptoms of Phantom Ringtone Disorder in the responses of some of our critics or even friends as we discuss and debate scriptures and religious history. To those steeped in popular traditions about the nature of salvation, no matter how clear a verse of scripture seems to us about our need to obey or keep the commandments as our response to faith in Christ, those notes become morphed into the ringtones of “salvation by faith only,” “obedience = false gospel,” etc. Even repeated statements from Christ such as “If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17) become morphed 180 degrees into “he was just showing how futile and wrong it is to think that we can keep the commandments.” But then our responses must be just about as frustrating on other topics.

How do we get past this? Getting closer to the source, and asking what something really means rather than “how does it agree with what I already think?” Examining our assumptions in approaching a problem – or even just recognizing that we are bringing assumptions and biases to the table. Easier said than done, of course. The solution isn’t easy (expensive weekly therapy at the Lindsay Mental Health Prevention Clinic might help), but for now I’d at least like to point out the problem.

Our most familiar music can be so ingrained in our minds that we find our music everywhere we look, when in fact, quite a different tune may be playing. It’s related to the problem of tapping out music that’s in your head – it’s hard to understand why others are such idiots that they can’t recognize our tune from the tapping. Tap — tap —tap, tap Tap tap, tap Tap tap; – “No, it’s the theme from Starwars, you idiot! Am I the only intelligent one around here??”


Author: Jeff Lindsay

21 thoughts on “Phantom Ringtones

  1. As a mental-health professional, I suggest that you come and see me at my clinic; Aripiprazole should do the trick – all 400mg TDS. =)

    As well removing those nasty ‘Phantom Ringtones’, it should also rid you of those voices that speak a false gospel =)

    Only kidding Jeff, only kidding!

    *runs away*

  2. Why would someone want to prevent mental health?

    I don’t know, but that’s where the money is. Whether it’s MTV, Halo 3, or the presidential campaigns, preventing mental health seems to be a primary focus of our culture. So why not open a clinic and cash in on the trend?

  3. I think Peter’s post has been misunderstood Jeff…

    The term ‘mental health’ means a sense of wellness.

    Jeff, maybe you’re thinking of ‘mental ill-health’. =/

  4. Here’s the last comment, with a link from a well-known anti-site removed (that’s been my policy since this blog was started in 2004 – they don’t need more traffic or higher page rank coming from me):

    And yes, it seems to be a growing trend. I know it seems to be that the government are pumping more and more money into the National Health Service to employ more and more therapists. It seems that 1 in 6 (in Britain) suffer from debilitating forms of clinical depression and general anxiety disorder =(

    As for me, I haven’t been in the service that long – but it does seem that we are seeing more and more cases of psychosis – especially within youth culture. It’s hardly surprising when we seem to be surrounded by a 50% divorce rate and the increased use of illegal drugs (especially certain forms of cannabis, crystal meths and amphetamines…)

    I’m pretty interested in this article. I don’t know who wrote it, but it seems to be blaming the Mormon culture as the cause of so much depression in Utah. I’ve always been taught that correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but it’d be interesting if somebody here could shed some light into this particular article…

    There’s another article here.

  5. Oh boy. I’m very sorry Jeff if the last two links offended you =(

    Please know that I was not aware that it was a so-called ‘anti-mormon’ site. My interests lay with the fact that I looked at the article from a professional perspective, wanting for people to shed light…

    Again, please accept my apology.

  6. I think taking drugs to curb a symptom is a silly idea. I had severe back pain not long ago and my parents suggested that I go to the doctor and get some pills to ease the inflammation. My train of thought was, that’s all well and good for the symptoms but it doesn’t relieve the problem, I ended up going to a chiropractor and I don’t feel the pain because he has fixed the problem. I think people often turn to drugs as a cure all. Saying that they don’t need to change the situation because they can change how they feel. Obviously this builds a dependency on the drug and not on the situations we put ourselves in.

    I think the stress of trying to live the commandment to “be thou perfect” is a hard task. I know that I do desperately want this but I realise that we are not commanded to be perfect right this very second. It will take time, and we should never lose the want to reach that goal. Even living the 10 commandments is hard. I slip up, I get back up and strive to succeed. I wonder how many are depressed because they may have slipped up and don’t want to expose that they are not perfect. They may also lose their temple recommend, which is not very nice as I found out. It may not be nice but we certainly need to own up to the problems we have so that we can tackle them.

  7. The link from provopulse (or whatever that site was called) referred to an article from deseretnews. Now, I’m trying to find out if Deseret Morning News is ‘anti-mormon’. As far as I can see it is not.

    So here is the article which provo-something or other referred to. So, what do people make of the article which seems to show a correlation between a high usage of anti-depressant medication with Mormon culture? Is this true? I wasn’t aware of how high the figures were, that’s all.

  8. Hmmm, the article from Deseret Morning News only seems to hint at the correlation between depression and high suicide rates in Utah with Mormon women….

    I don’t know anything about the reputation of CBS News (I’m not from the US), but they also this story covered here…

  9. NM, the link that I objected to was to a site that included “maze” in the domain name. I have no objections to the Provo Pulse. The Deseret News is actually a Church-owned newspaper, and while it seems to operate with a high degree of journalistic freedom, I don’t think it’s ever going to be mistaken for an anti-Mormon source, not even by me, in spite of its freedom to explore topics that might make Mormons uncomfortable.

    The issue of suicide in Utah has been addressed in the past on this blog. The Western states in general have a much higher problem in that area, but among the Western states, Utah has the lowest rate.

    For information about anti-depressants and other medications, and the allegation that Mormons are more depressed than others, see FAIRWiki on anti-depressants. Also see the results of a study showing Mormon women are less likely to be depressed.

    Studies pointing to high use of anti-depressants or other drugs must be balanced against the low use of alcohol, the drug of choice in America for dealing with almost any problem.

  10. NM said: I think Peter’s post has been misunderstood Jeff…

    The term ‘mental health’ means a sense of wellness.

    Jeff, maybe you’re thinking of ‘mental ill-health’. =/

    I think I understood Peter’s post. It takes all the fun out of attempted humor when I have to explain it, but “Mental Health Prevention Clinic” is a term I use on purpose at times. It’s meant as something of a joke, as was the comment on the many profitable mental health preventative services offered by our society.

    I guess this type of humor doesn’t work in England either, eh? Back to my day job….

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