Sad silence descends as landline reaches end of the line
BUSINESS LIFE:On LinkedIn is a picture of David Cameron in shirtsleeves at his desk in 10 Downing Street making a call to US president Barack Obama to congratulate him on his second term.
It is part of a series of images of important people at work – there is Richard Branson loafing around in swimming trunks on a tropical beach, and there is self-help guru Deepak Chopra, crosslegged and eyes closed meditating in front of what appears to be a large stone egg.
The latter two images are slightly odd, but not nearly as odd as the first one. There is something arrestingly anachronistic about the sight of the prime minister at work, though at first I couldn’t figure out quite what it was. It is not the panelled walls or the antique side table. It isn’t his cufflinks or the formal navy tie. All are traditional and staid, but not exactly out of place in 2013.
And then I got it: it is the coiled length of grey, plastic-covered wire running from the thing at his ear to an object on his desk. The prime minister is doing what almost no one does any more: talk on a landline.
Symbol of white-collar work
Until about a decade ago the office phone was the symbol of white-collar work. It was the most important thing on any desk: every photograph of every man in power would invariably show him speaking urgently into one. But now these clumping phones sit largely silent, their huge receivers left slumbering in their cradles.
Only the prime minister has an excuse for continuing to use this outdated piece of kit. If he wants to have a top-secret conversation with Mr Obama, an underground copper cable is a better bet than a microwave.
Anyone within range and with a couple of hundred dollars or spyware would be able to hear him saying into a mobile: “Congratulations, Mr President.”
For the rest of us the landline has little remaining purpose. Last week I visited the BBC’s main newsroom, where dozens of people were hard at work. The number I spotted on the office phone: just one.
A large grey Cisco telephone sits on my desk and when it occasionally decides to ring I don’t usually answer. The idea of picking up when I don’t know who it is at the other end fills me with mild dread. A red light indicates I have messages, but I haven’t listened to them for at least a year.