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Hello! Do you still use your landline phone?

PUBLISHED: 12:02 08 January 2019

Megan on the mobile - no desk required Picture: LJM

Megan on the mobile - no desk required Picture: LJM

Archant

With telephone landline use fading and mobile use burgeoning, is the end in sight for the home phone?

You pick up the receiver, dial the number by inserting a finger in the hole above the relevant digit, turn the dial as far as it will go clockwise and release it, allowing the dial to return to its resting position before dialling the next number.

It was second nature to older generations but for younger people it is now an amusing tale from ye olden days. Not only has dialling had its day but now, new research indicates landline usage is obsolescent... even if people like me, still have a proper telephone operating through a landline.

Between 2012 and 2017, time spent on landline calls plummeted from 103 billion minutes to 54 billion minutes; nearly halved, while over the same period, mobile calls rose to 148.6 billion minutes, a tenfold increase.

New research from Ofcom reveals changing attitudes to the traditional telephone number. The study suggests that remembering phone numbers – or even needing to dial them – could soon be a thing of the past.

When I sustained a head injury a few years ago, before ferrying me to hospital, the paramedics asked me who they should contact. From memory, I reeled off my husband’s direct landline number, the company switchboard number and my home landline number. My head injury wasn’t too bad, fortunately.

Other numbers I know by heart are my doctors’ surgery, my parents’ number, the number at my previous house and my mum’s Co-op dividend number. I come from a generation that squirrels away numbers and keeps them safe. I even know my mobile number without having to look it up under “my number” in my contacts list. Without the discipline of remembering phone numbers, will our number memories atrophy; wither and die?

When they ring friends and family, people now rely on contact numbers stored in their phones. A 22-year-old told Ofcom: “I don’t need to remember numbers.”

In 2012, people in the UK made a total of 103 billion minutes of landline calls, but in 2017 that fell to just 54 billion.

... and how to use it. Picture: LJM... and how to use it. Picture: LJM

The Ofcom data confirms that younger people prefer to use messaging services, such as WhatsApp, rather than use their phones to talk. An 18-year-old said: “Calling someone is a bit daunting. It’s much easier and quicker to WhatsApp my friends. If I have to call a company, I’ll always try to use webchat if it’s available.”

By contrast, older people prefer having a conversation. A 68-year-old participant said: “I prefer to speak to a person. You can get a better understanding.”

I have some sympathy with the teenager. There are occasions when you need to call someone to apologise and that takes a degree of mental resolve. It is so much easier to text or WhatsApp to say “sorry”. At the same time, however, the default to smart phone, non-verbal options may be thwarting conversation and proper social interaction. By removing ourselves from direct contact we are also distancing ourselves from speaking to people. Should we be worried?

The study also reveals a big difference between older and younger generations in understanding area codes. For example, knowing if you care called from a number with the code ‘01379’, it comes from Diss.

The landline... Picture: LJMThe landline... Picture: LJM

Younger people generally don’t feel strongly about whether area codes represent a particular location. In fact, many don’t even know that area codes have geographic significance, often mistaking them for other numbers and associating them with nuisance callers or call centres.

Most older people, on the other hand, recognise area codes. They are considered helpful when searching for local businesses, and when making and receiving calls. People were asked how they would feel about area codes losing their geographic relevance and while younger people liked the idea of having greater freedom to own a number ‘for life’, seeing a number as part of a person’s identity, older people are strongly against losing geographic meaning from area codes.

Liz Greenberg, head of numbering at Ofcom, said: “Some of us can remember a time when we stored phone numbers in our head, rather than our mobile. But the way we use and feel about telephone numbers is changing.”

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