Phoney

I love it in old movies when someone grabs the earpiece of a bakelite phone, turns the crank a few times and demands that they be put through to a three-digit number. There’s something deeply engaging about it. Maybe it’s the fact that there’s physical activity involved. Or maybe it’s the wispy half-presence of the operator, the crucial go-between with her sensible skirt, nimble fingers and weakness for listening in. The three-digit number helps too; a subtle whisper about exclusivity and power. There’s glamour here, in short, and romance and ritual and drama. You can’t imagine someone picking up one of these old phones, going through the laborious connection process and then sighing, ‘So, any crack?’ much less ‘Would you like to take a few minutes to provide us with some feedback so that we can continue to improve our service going forward?’ No hold music either, of course, no Greensleeves played on a comb and a bit of toilet roll. No ‘Press the hash key NOW’. No ‘I wouldn’t have a clue pal, I’ll put you back to reception’. And no call waiting. Imagine that. Call waiting symbolises everything disappointing about the modern phone experience. You call someone up, not because you’ve got something important to say, but because you can. They’re engaged because someone else with nothing to say got in before you. But they know you’re out there, hanging on. They might swap calls, they might not. You’re stuck in limbo, complaining under your breath. And no one’s even listening in.

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