A primary empirical foundation for this study has been a series of semi-structured (Brinkmann and Kvale 2015) and materially-oriented qualitative interviews (Abildgaard 2018) with 15 participants. Of these, four were between 39 and 48 (all women), four were in their 50s (two men and two women), four in their 60s (three women, 1 man), and three in their 70s (two men, one woman), the oldest being 77. Two test interviews were also performed to test and revise the interview guide, but these were not included in the analysis. The interviews were held in 2015 at the Danish Post & Tele Museum (now named Enigma). The location was easy to get to for most participants, but more significantly, it meant that I was able to borrow artifacts from the museum, such as landline and mobile telephones, for use during the interviews.
The telephones used during the interviews represented the most commonly used landline and early mobile telephones from 1950 to 2000 in Denmark, chosen with the help of the Post & Tele Museum’s staff. We were able to establish such a canon easily because, up to the late 1980s, access to telephones was accomplished predominantly by renting one from the local telephone company, which carried a very limited (if any) selection. At the start of each interview these telephones were lined up in chronological order on two tables right next to where the interview took place, each telephone with a number in front of it so that the models could be quickly referenced during the audio recording of the interview. In addition to sound recording, I used pen and paper during the interviews to draw places and take notes on participants’ interactions with the telephones. By incorporating material objects into the interview situation, I sought to emphasize material specificity, narrative structure, and “body memories” (Fuchs 2012) of using these artifacts, where participants recalled habitual memories related to lifting, touching, listening to, and otherwise actively using a telephone (for a detailed analysis of this approach, see Abildgaard 2018).
On average, an interview took two hours and was structured chronologically around telephone culture during different life phases, defined as child (0-12 years) teenager (13-18), young adult (19-28), adult (29-64), and elderly (65-). With the exception of one question – the first memory of using a telephone (childhood) – questions were asked repeatedly for each phase. Questions from the interview guide include the telephone’s placement in the home, asking participants to describe different telephone models, a concrete good or bad experience using the telephone, and what rules existed for telephony at this point in the participant’s life. In conducting such a set of in-depth qualitative interviews, one cannot and should not attempt to provide a representative sample of the Danish population. With this in mind, I aimed for a set of interviewees whose differences in age and gender might provide different perspectives on the role and perception of the telephone. Landline users under 35 were excluded to ensure that interviewees had lived a significant part of their lives before the popularization of mobile telephones in the 1990s.
In the analysis, the life-stories of all interviewees inform this article’s focus on sound, sharing, and assemblage and have also been used to establish common conditions, such as placement of telephones. However, I analyze the telephone’s place-dependency by emphasizing a few particular situations where interviewees offer detailed descriptions of their use and experience with telephones in relation to sound and place, which means that not every interviewee from the group is represented in this analysis. To protect interviewee anonymity, names and other identifiable information of those mentioned have been altered. Direct quotes (translated from the original Danish) and stories from the interviews, supported by the broader literature on the history of the telephone, are analyzed as expressions of acoustic territorializing. For contrast and context, my findings on the use of the telephone as a situated technology are juxtaposed with findings from the historical literature on related situated home sound technologies, such as hi-fi stereo systems and television.