Sad silence descends as landline reaches end of the line
Just now I decided to see what I’ve been missing. It took a while, as I couldn’t remember my password, and then I found that more than 100 messages were waiting patiently to be heard – so many that the mailbox had declared itself full and was refusing to record any more.
The first voicemail went like this: “Hi, Lucy, this is Marcia. Just following up on an email I sent . . . ” I pressed delete. They went on like that. All either useless or duplicates of information I got by email or text. By not answering the phone for a year I have lost nothing, and gained much in terms of efficiency and control. It has allowed me to talk only to the people I want to talk to, at a time that suits me.
It sounds rather good. And yet I can’t help feeling sad for all the conversations that didn’t happen, and sad, too, for the switchboard that didn’t facilitate them. The Financial Times employs a third of the people to direct phone traffic it did a decade ago. No one asks now to be put through to a colleague in the same building, as they email instead. And external calls are dwindling: the average number received on our main number between 6pm and 10pm – barely 50.
A similar thing has happened at home, where the landline is even quieter. This has been good, as you don’t waste time answering each other’s calls. No longer do jilted boyfriends wanting to talk to Sylvia have to get past Sylvia’s mother: they now cut out the middleman. Boyfriends may prefer the new arrangement but it’s worse for the family, as no one knows what anyone else is up to.
With the company phone the same applies. The death of the landline may be better for us individually but it is worse for the bonds between us.
The saddest thing is what the decline has done to the atmosphere in offices. There are no noisy phones giving their galvanising rings, creating buzz and urgency. Sadder still, I no longer hear my colleagues arguing with their spouses and builders: most dirty linen is now washed away from desks. Once upon a time I found these fractious calls annoying. But now the door into the private lives of my workmates has closed, I wish I could open it again.
– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013)