Telephonic Territories: The Landline Phone As a “Place-Dependent” Sound Technology

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Abstract

A distinguishing feature of the landline telephone is that, in contrast to most phones in use today, it belongs first and foremost to a place. Following the last thirty years of scholarly interest in the wide-ranging implications of mobile telephony, what would happen if we were to pay similar attention to the significance of living with “place-dependent” sound technologies such as the home telephone? In this article, I draw on concepts from the fields of sound studies and science and technology studies (STS) to present the twentieth-century landline telephone as a place-dependent sound technology based on qualitative interviews with Danish landline telephone users. I emphasize several consequences of “place-dependency”: First, that the home becomes an “auditory territory” (LaBelle 2010) where zones of telephonic silence and noise are fixed but also call for continuous negotiations. The notion of territory points us towards the second consequence – that negotiations of ownership become complicated through the landline telephone’s attachment to a household rather than an individual. Third, I consider the implications of the landline telephone’s irreducibility from its surroundings, where it exists as less a solitary technology than an assemblage of the home. Here, I also pay attention to the way immobility for the landline telephone is not a stable concept but is continuously re-negotiated by its users and its own assembled materiality.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Sonic Studies
Volume21
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2021

Keywords

  • telephone
  • smart phones
  • mobile phone
  • history of technology
  • Actor network theory
  • STS
  • sound studies
  • media studies

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