By Hayley Doyle
Nothing is more terrifying than the intrusive BRRNN-BRRNNNGG of a phone call waking you up at 3 am. You’re yanked from peaceful slumber into a jittering wreck. Your heart pounds like a ticking bomb about to explode. Your voice croaks, barely audible to yourself, never mind the person on the other end trying to talk to you. Perhaps you’ve never quite experienced this. Maybe you have a vague memory of being a child, the phone ringing in the middle of the night and your parents answering. The noise wasn’t so terrifying because the phone wasn’t in your room. But you’ve seen the movies. It can only be bad news. Nobody makes a phone call in the early hours to sell double-glazing or get a monthly direct debit out of you for a wildlife charity. Your mate doesn’t just ring for a natter. Something awful has happened and you must be told.
Thankfully, these incidents are rare.
What’s more, once the PSTN (Public Switched Telephone Network) network is switched off in 2025 you will no longer be able to make phone calls via landline with no internet connection. And while this should feel progressive, a final push of out-with-the-old, it fills me with dread. Not only will the landline phone become a nostalgic item found in a quirky thrift shop along with a typewriter and a broken walkman, but lately, I’ve been seriously considering reinstalling a landline in my home…
Ever since it dawned on me that I - like so many of us - have an unhealthy relationship with my phone, I’ve tried to think of ways I can reduce my screen time. I’d roll my eyes at my mum when she talked about what she’d seen on Facebook, proudly telling her that I’d deleted it off my phone and didn’t bother with it anymore. But I was not winning. My phone always had the smug upper hand. By deleting Facebook, all I did was scroll through Instagram twice as much. Inevitably, being a business owner, I reinstalled the app and daily check-ins soon crept into multiple mindless scrolls. So I switched all my apps around… (Yes, I’ve googled all the advice and read How To Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price - which is superb, by the way, for those more strong-willed than l’il ol’ me.) Did that help? Ha. Of course not. My brain memorised where the hidden apps were and my fingers found them darn quickly. And as for WhatsApp, Messenger, DMs, and emails, well, I am one of those people who just cannot let a message hang there and fester. If I see it, I HAVE to reply. If replying isn’t possible, then I mark it as unread, but oh, my brain cells ache and squidge as I overthink each and every word of my forthcoming written reply.
So. Yep. It’s worrying, isn’t it? This addiction I’ve fallen into. Whenever I feel overwhelmed with life and admin and not-enough-hours-in-the-day and DEFINITELY not-enough-hours-allocated-for-sleep, I wonder how the hell I don’t get stuff done because I know I’m proactive and full of beans most of the time. Then I discovered this fact: It takes an average of 23 minutes to bounce back from a distraction. Bingo. If my phone is distracting me multiple times an hour, then I am officially constantly, always and forever, Distracted. Which is not a state I wish to be in, thank you very much.
There seemed to be one good solution to this problem; bring back the landline.
Because every time my eyes divert to the flash on my phone beside me as I work, the reason I check is due to deep anxiety that something bad has happened and I need to be contacted immediately. If I dare to leave my phone in another room, then I never leave it on silent. What if I miss the ding of an urgent message?! So I bet you’re wondering what I do overnight. Well, I keep it on silent beside my bed, of course. And give it a quick check with one blurry eye whenever I wake. Awful behaviour, I know, I know. We’re advised not to sleep in the same room as our phones and, in an ideal world, not until we’re sat at our desk after having meditated, worked out, digested some protein, walked the kids to school and listened to a self-help audiobook chapter on aeroplane mode. And what about the new trend of people who are switching their phones off entirely between 7 pm and 7 am. That’s a long time to be uncontactable…in an emergency!
Thank you, Smart Phones. You have injected me with madness. The likelihood of somebody needing to reach me personally and immediately - at any time of day - is minimal, and with my children tucked up in the room beside me every night, there are even fewer reasons for me to worry about missing a phone call at 4 am. But if the landline phone was still the norm in our homes, this irrational fear I’ve developed wouldn’t exist. I’d just live my life, without digital distractions. Prior to smartphones, if - IF - something terrible happened while I was fast asleep, the almighty noise of the ring would shake me awake.
So am I clutching at straws? Feeling sad about the lack of interest - clearly - for landlines to be brought back into our daily lifestyles? I guess there’s a huge amount of nostalgia encompassing this “loss” too. Saying goodbye to a device we’ve known our entire lives puts the landline firmly into the category of “how things used to be”. The only time we’ll ever see them again will be in a museum. It’s weird to think that my parent’s home phone number, a randomly ordered numerical sequence that I’ve known by heart since I was a little girl, will be dialled in a couple of years to meet a dead end. Sure, they have mobile phones and I contact them regularly in the modern way, but when I want to chat with them, particularly in the evening, I still call the landline. What happens to that number once the landline has gone? Will it remain forever etched into my memory? Well, of course. I can still recite the digits belonging to the home of the sixth former I had a major crush on in 1995.
But we’re losing so much more than a simple form of communication. The landline phone in the home united the family in ways that are already old-fashioned. When the phone rang, nobody knew who it would be for, so there was always a sense of anticipation; is it for me? Even when you needed privacy, whispering to your bestie or blushing at the sound of the voice on the other end asking you on a date, there was a communal “knowing” and as annoying as it was, it held the unit of a family together. We were all much more intertwined in each other’s lives. Any freedom to speak meant having to slam a bedroom door or hope the cord would stretch to a quiet spot. But even if you can’t hear a conversation word for word through a wall, and even when privacy had to be respected, you could always sense a good or bad vibe. Problems weren’t so utterly secret. I dread to think what my kids will be chatting about on their own personal devices when that inevitable day comes…
Oh, landline. You were such a treat. And we didn’t really appreciate you until we lost you. We forgive your spam calls because oh, how we now despise spam emails. And we slept more soundly knowing you were there, just in case…