Commentary: Please don't get rid of the landline

5 days ago 39

LONDON: Last week I tried ringing my parents. “You have dialled an incorrect number,” the robot-voiced woman said.

It was definitely not incorrect, not something I could ever get wrong. It’s not even on speed dial: I enjoy pressing the familiar, familial numbers.

How weird, I thought, there must be a glitch.

A few days later I asked mum about it. “Oh yes, we got rid of the landline,” she replied with detached casualness. “We were paying a lot for it and just getting spam calls.”

That’s it? A randomly ordered numerical sequence, recitable at speed and etched into my memory, gone just like that?

My parents have had the same house and phone number since I was born. Dialling that number was a portal to the fixed physical place of home. I felt a strange sense of loss. I was mourning digits.

Not everyone feels the same, evidently. In the UK, landline use has fallen by two-thirds since 2010, according to Enders Analysis/Ofcom. And given that only 17 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds ever use a landline, the future of the home phone number is hanging by a thread.

(Photo: Unsplash/Utsman Media)

It appears that the landline is going the way of the Walkman, typewriter, quill pen, Bop It! and all those other technologies once so deeply embedded in people’s lives.

Eventually they will be used only by eccentrics and nostalgics, and displayed as exhibits in cultural museums. My 10-year-old ridicules them as “those banana phones”. So what exactly are we losing?

THE FIRST GASPS OF FREEDOM

For me, from about the age of 11 onwards, the landline was an umbilical cord that allowed me to stretch a little, to experience my first gasps of freedom. I would drag the battered, coiled cord from the hallway under my bedroom door, just ...

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