What happened to... Home Futures

The telephone

To mark the Home Futures exhibition, guest authors take stock of some of the changes that the contemporary domestic interior has endured in the last two decades. What happened to the TV, the telephone, the bed? Explore more of these essays in the official exhibition catalogue.

Home ownership has become the preserve of the few, while phone ownership has become almost entirely universal. The phone became ubiquitous in British homes during the 1970s. Heavy, cumbersome and firmly tethered by a cable, the telephone sat stately and static in hallways and living rooms. These fixed phones anchored the home in place, making it a node in the wired network of telephonic communications, along which place-to-place calls were made between phone numbers registered to specific addresses.

The arrival of the mobile phone began a process of displacement. By rendering the landline obsolete, the mobile phone disconnected the home from the network that had anchored it and made it easier for people to roam farther and more freely from the home. As the ‘dumb’ phone has given way to the seemingly endless functionality of the smartphone, the number of tasks that we need to be physically present in the home to complete have dwindled to a surprisingly small number. The processes of the home have reconvened on the home-screen. We can use our phones to turn the lights on, adjust the heating, put the kettle on, turn the oven of and answer the call of the doorbell – remote-controlling our home presence through the screen of a smartphone.

As the phone has become metonymical of the home, the home has gone mobile – transported around the world in our pockets. The phone is our home-away-from-home, for better and for worse. It powers the ‘belong anywhere’, utopian fantasy freedom of services such as Airbnb by offering a personal, (theoretically) private domain for us to carry with us wherever we go. A more dystopian vision, David G Morley’s work with refugees shows how the mobile phone has come to embody the feeling of home for the dispossessed – ‘a token of safety and belonging in a new modality of homeliness’. For the peripatetic – restless or precarious – the very mobility of the phone is what allows it to remain a fixed point, maybe the only fixed point, in an ever-moving existence: a screen so familiar that it feels like home.

—Mary Miller

Related exhibition

Home Futures

Explore today’s home through the prism of yesterday’s imagination. Are we living in the way that pioneering architects and designers throughout the 20th century predicted, or has our idea of home proved resistant to real change?

Find out more

Home Futures

Alongside original essays by leading voices in the field, this richly illustrated book features more than 200 colour images, organised in six thematic sections exploring privacy, the smart home, compact living, self-sufficiency, nomadic lifestyles and the idea of the home as an idyllic landscape.