Object obituary: The plain old telephone

The landline is scheduled to have its long-term life support switched off, after communication experts have shown there is little point in attempting revival.

The diagnosis is sound: there are currently six billion phone users, but only 1.26 billion of these are loyal to the wall-leaning conversational apparatus.

With over half the world’s population subscribed to a mobile phone service, and mobile rates dropping at a far greater rate than that of the fixed phone, the latter’s grave situation is summed up by UK telco expert Michael O’Hara: “We now have a generation of people who will never have the need for a landline.”

Hello, are you there? Erm, no, not anymore

But the Plain Old Telephone Service had a good run – although it may have had a better one if it had been given a more exciting name that the Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS).

The phone was born in 1876 to Alexander Bell who used it to make the first speech transmission to a friend: “Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.”

This clear communication was not, however, indicative of the dialogues that would follow. If you wanted to call someone you needed to first get the attention of the operator by whistling, no doubt causing many deaths amongst the purse-lip-impaired as they tried desperately to request an ambulance.

Then again, those that did get through to an operator were not guaranteed a speedy transfer anyway. Telephone exchanges were forced to change from an all-male to all-female staff after the boys were found to be too fond of being boys – being overly chatty with female callers and making prank calls in their lunch breaks.

Frustration stemming from bad lines and sore wall-leaning shoulders followed, so it was with cruel excitement that many heralded the death knell of the landline when the cellphone arrived on the market in 1973.

Still, the sad should take comfort in the fact the end could have come a lot sooner – the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (aka AT&T) considered creating a wireless phone way back in 1915. It was rumoured to have been talked out of doing so via a few gentle death threats from local telcos.

But now, after a long reprieve, the time has come to say goodbye to the Plain Old Telephone. Perhaps as a fitting tribute to its father, Mr Bell, who once proposed we say “hoy hoy” into the receiver instead of “hello” we should give our farewell thus: “Boy Boy, dear phone. Boy boy.”

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