Between 2012 and 2017, time spent on landline calls plummeted from 103 billion minutes to 54 billion minutes.
Over the same period, mobile calls rose to 148.6 billion minutes.
“We’ve seen a shift in people, away from thinking of communication as place-based, towards something more personal,” Dr Bernie Hogan, from the Oxford Internet Institute, told the BBC.
Time and place
Instead of sharing phones in particular places, nailed to the wall or placed on a desk, we have got used to having our communication hub on our bodies, always at hand for messages, pictures and calls.
Dr Hogan said this does not necessarily mean the landline will disappear altogether. In fact, in an age of smartphones, it may find a renewed sense of purpose. “The landline won’t have a resurgence but what it represents might: being available at a certain place and time.”
As anyone who has faced late-night work emails or calls will be able to tell you, the bounds around communication have loosened as we’ve moved away from distinct private and professional numbers.
Instead of memorising different numbers for the office or for home, plenty of people now use the same phone for calls throughout the day. But how does this square with the various roles we inhabit from morning to midnight?
“A person is many people,” said professor John Zimmerman, from Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. “Dad, son, employee, member, etc. Often it is more important for our devices to know who we are in the moment when making a choice to allow, dismiss, or reroute a potential connection.”
Unhinged from clunky plastic handsets wired into specific rooms, what lines of communication should reach us when? Are we a manager in our child’s bedroom, or a mother in a board meeting?
For many, these roles are increasingly managed by a platter of social media accounts, from your family WhatsApp group to your work LinkedIn account. Unlike an open public network such as a phone number system, however, these are privately owned; controlled by big technology companies.
“What we’re seeing is a shift towards the corporatisation of our communication channels,” warned Dr Hogan. “It’s a concern. There should be policy or legal means to allow for interoperable communication between corporate networks.”
Simon Hayler of GHM Care, providers of technology for care homes says: “It’s really difficult to separate personal and professional lives with the increase in mobile usage but our systems have so many settings and diversions that can be applied to both landlines and mobiles which go a long way in managing personal time and work time.”