In response to the last thirty years of scholarly interest in the wide-ranging implications of mobile technologies, I have argued that we should ask ourselves what would happen if we were to “make the familiar strange” (Atkinson, Coffey and Delamont 2003) and pay similar attention to a situation we have known for a much longer time: living with place-dependent technology. As a point of departure, I have examined the implications of one of the many technologies that fundamentally belongs to a place: the home landline telephone.
My analysis of sound at home was thus fixed on a sound technology that lives a situated life. In a sense, approaching landline telephony as a situated auditory practice is paradoxical: while the technology is (mostly) immobile, the sound of a telephone ringing or a telephonic conversation does often resonate throughout the home. As we have learned from Lisa, Peter, Rosa, Sandra, and Steen’s stories about using the landline telephone in the late twentieth century, however, telephonic sounds have been highly regulated and negotiated as part of the home’s acoustic politics. At home, telephonic sounds were rarely thought of as noise, but instead connected to wide-ranging issues such as fiscal concerns (the price of talk on the telephone), independence and secrecy (talk that must not be overheard), and socio-technical control (talk that must be overheard).
While this study aims only to address use of the landline phone as recounted by telephone users in Denmark, it points to three consequences of “place-dependency” that arguably apply broadly to place-dependent auditory technologies: first, that the home becomes mapped as an auditory territory where zones of silence and noise are fixed but also call for continuous negotiations. This notion of territory also points us towards the second consequence, that negotiations of ownership become necessary due to the technology’s attachment to a household rather than an individual. Third, situated sound technologies become irreducible from their surroundings and consequently act less as a solitary technology than as an assemblage of the social and material elements of the home. Finally, immobility for the landline telephone is not a stable concept, but is continuously re-negotiated by the practices of its users and its own assembled materiality.
To convey the implications of these multifaceted politics of place that arise with the use of place-dependent technologies, I argue that they should be studied less as solitary technologies that can be analyzed of and by themselves but instead as technologies imbedded within and understood by means of a comprehensive analysis of the soundscapes, layouts, furnishing, and environment of their setting. Hopefully, this endeavor can also help bridge the gap between contemporary studies of smartphones and other related sound technologies and ICTs so that developments in and fluidity between immobile and mobile practices can be recognized and mapped.