Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The number you are calling has been disconnected...

Mother? Can you hear me, mother?
This article in today's G2 by Jess Cartner-Morley looks at the way in which the landline phone is dying a death. It's more a piece of cultural commentary than a linguistic discussion, but raises some quite intriguing ideas about the ways in which we communicate these days.

Coming from the generation in which we did actually dial a number by putting our pinkies in the dial and turning it round, then telling the person at the other end who we were, I can just about cope with caller display and mobile phones which use different ringtones for different callers. I can even cope with texting, even though I was taught to text by my Colchester students back in 1998 and then taught how to use predictive text by the boyfriend of one of my ex-students, embarrassingly for me quite recently... down the pub in 2008. But to me a landline was always a given, especially for having a chat to parents or siblings.

As Cartner-Morley tells us, it's all different now, even for people in their 30s and 40s:

My landline rarely rings these days. And even when it does, I usually don't answer it. It seems like an increasingly alien concept, picking up a phone without knowing who is on the other end, so as often as not I let the answerphone pick up. Oh, and I never, ever listen to landline answerphone messages. My reasoning is that a message left at a house when someone's not even there must by definition be so non-urgent that it doesn't need listening to. I assume that if anyone actually needs me, they will reach me on my mobile, or by text or email. And this, at the grand old age of 37. For millions of today's twentysomethings, who have had a mobile number since their teens and for whom a landline makes no practical sense during the transient years before they settle down, the moment of opting into landline-owning may never come if it becomes an expensive extra. My sister and my closest colleague, for instance, both have grown-up jobs and mortgages, but no landlines.
 She finishes the article by suggesting that it's probably not healthy or helpful to rely on texts, tweets and emails to conduct our lives:

It would be sad if, having crammed our lives full of texting, tweeting and status updates, we no longer have the energy to speak to people who want to talk to us. There are repercussions of cutting ourselves in or out of the loop as we please, because real community doesn't work like that. Interestingly, relatively new forms of online interaction, such as Twitter and BBM instant-messaging, have returned to a more conversational, back-and-forth style, rather than the hit-and-run approach of sending an email. Horror films have moved on from the snipped landline to the dreaded out-of-battery/low-signal plot device. But in real life, we're all running scared from a ringing phone.
 This article from the NY Times offers a similar take on the same subject, but contains the great summary "You pretty much call people on the phone when you don’t understand their e-mail".

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