I don’t often expect something as mundane as a banking form to provide inspiration for a blog post. But I was recently filling out such a form when the section for providing my telephone number gave me pause for thought.
As I entered “not available” under “Home”, it suddenly struck me afresh how the changing nature of our telephone infrastructure has deeply impacted on our sense of who we are.
If you think that’s a bit too dramatic, then consider the fact that by 2030 the landline’s traditional copper based system of connection replaced by internet based technology. There were still be a landline. But more broadly, the landline’s days seem numbered, with 40% of Brits not using one, and over half of under 25s preferring the mobile option. What does this supposedly minor change herald?
In the act of replacing home phone with mobile, I have imperceptibly but indisputably morphed from a being with a sense of rootedness in a collective home, to a portable individual. The shared home landline is now substituted by an individual device that fits in my pocket and which I can take anywhere I go.
The small ways in which we design our lives, or have them designed for us, shape who we are, what we are for, and what we think about who we are and what we are for. Portable, mobile, always on the go, always reachable (although ironically in this age of Covid, more “at home”, if middle-class and white collar, and also less at liberty to see others than usual). And the term mobile is really defunct now, isn’t it? After all, when technology advances as quickly as it does, new terms and devices quickly become obsolete. Instead, we now live in the age of the smart phone. And with this new era, to the list of important human character traits, we can now add: “capacity to have attention constantly grabbed”. For a smart phone, for all its size, contains the computing power of a desktop. An iPhone is a computer first (with GPS, email, applications, entertainment, messaging)…and, somewhere very near the bottom of the list, a phone for making phone calls. Some of the smartest minds have combined to design technology that plays to our deepest desires to be distracted and liked. We are slowly becoming aware of the impact of these technologies on our ways of being and relating–though the conversation seems to stop around the point of considering what practical solutions we might take to resist and take back control (might the landline be one such solution?).
The point I am making is that the replacement of the landline with mobile phones impacts our individual sense of self and our sense of being individuals in community. We seem to move from rooted and coherent units to mobile, portable and attention-divided individuals. What is this doing to us? What opportunities open up with mobile technology? And what are we losing?
My entry of “not available” seems to speak to a deeper sense of rootlessness in modern culture. It’s almost as if nobody’s home anymore.