August 24, 2011

Life without a telephone

A recent house move left me without a landline connection for a whole week - and all this despite meticulous advance planning.  

The problem apparently was located in a local exchange but the company (not) providing me with a telephone connection kept assuring me that their computers showed my telephone was connected and working.  They never took me seriously when I tried to convince them that their computers were wrong and I was right.  The fact that these numerous "service" calls were conducted via my mobile phone failed to make any impression on them.  If they took the simple expedient step of ringing my landline number, they would soon find out that the line was as dead as a dodo and their computers in need of a serious overhaul.  Luckily they saw the error of their ways by the end of the week and my telephone now works perfectly.

A few days after full service was restored, I received a phone call from a very nice lady in customer relations: she was ringing to check that my telephone was working properly - she rang on my landline phone.  If only they had done this on day one, in the fashion of the early telephone operators who used to make daily telephone calls to subscribers to check if the lines were working.

I'm not a fanatic telephone user - neither mobile nor landline - but I must confess to feeling isolated and cut off from the rest of society during my telephone-less week.  Not just cut off in the sense that I was unreachable by phone for a week but in the sense that, without a telephone connection in the society that I live in, you're not considered fully part of that society.  Many public bodies and services ask for your landline number first; a mobile number is useful but a landline presupposes a fixed address with a householder who is registered in all the correct places.  So with a landline connection, you feel more 'permanent' and an established member of the community.  When people ring your number, they know precisely in which building you are located.  I had to rely on mobile telephony but never felt really safe with it - units might run out during a long phone call, the battery could go flat, I could lose the charger, or quite simply forget to take the phone with me when leaving the house.

What made our grandparents feel permanent and 'connected' to their communities before the telephone became commonplace?  Or did they not need to feel connected?  As an experiment, going cold turkey with telephone use could tell us all a lot about how we view our own personal use and need of the telephone (in a similar fashion to going a whole week or month without television or Internet).  But we can never experience pre-telephony life in this way - what has been learned cannot be unlearned.
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Digital Telephone Book by Elizabeth Chairopoulou is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.