A friend of mine asks for clarification about my recent ringtone experiment:

So, explain the silent ringtone a bit more? How do you do it, and doesn’t it just block all the calls that aren’t from family/friends? And doesn’t iPhone have some whitelist feature?

Okay, to set it up, I first created a ringtone that consists of 10 seconds of silence. So far as I can tell with the iPhone, you can assign different ringtones to different people. Contrary to what I previously believed, it turns out that you can actually set the phone to NOT ring for some people, but to ring for others: you set Do Not Disturb (in Settings > Notifications) and choose “Allow Calls from [Insert Name of Group]”.

However, I still can’t find a way to assign a common ringtone to a group phone calls. So if you have family who you want to always ring through, what you have to do is create a ringtone for that group (in my case, the opening bars of Derek and the Domino’s “Layla”) and assign it as the ringtone to every family member. I also have a distinct text tone for family (Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator”).

There is also a group called VIP in Mail, but assigning someone to that group doesn’t extend to texts or phone calls; that’a s list that doesn’t show up in your contacts group.

(And, while I’m at it, there’s a weird thing with contacts on the iPhone: there is no easy way to see members of a specific group. You have to go to Groups, then uncheck all the groups but the one you want to examine. Clumsy.)

Last week, I decided that utter silence was a bit too much, so I changed the ringtone and text tone for non-family to a couple samples from Bach’s solo work for cello, and some traditional Chinese flute song from Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road project. (All pieces that I bought on CD, by the way.) Given that most ringtones are meant to communicate urgency, to jolt your attention away from whatever you’re doing and refocus on it– in other words, they’re like alarms– having a ringtone that’s a soft, gentle cello phrase is quite different: you notice it much more gradually and pleasantly.