This phone line is so cool, let’s talk about Dial a Seanchaí

Illustration of an old phone dialing ring

by David Redmond

I don’t mean to be stereotypical, but for whatever reason Blind and visually impaired people seem to love audio. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a medium we can enjoy equally, or maybe we can better appreciate the importance of little detail in sound, but whatever the reason, we seem to have a special appreciation for the creative use of noise.

A short while ago I got a message from a friend on WhatsApp sharing a phone number with me. This was a number for Dial a Seanchaí, a service letting you hear the stories and songs of yesterday, told and sung by the voices of today.

When you call, you hear a bit about the project and are then presented with 6 options. It’s simple storytelling on a phone line from County Clare.

Stories include tails of fairy hurling matches, dances with the dead, and a cow with an unlimited supply of milk. It’s so simple, yet so cool. Stories are pre-recorded and beautifully produced. It’s like listening to short audio stories just via the phone.

Sure, it’s a novelty, and it’s not something that you’d be calling regularly, but for a one-off experience, it’s certainly really something I can really appreciate.

Often in Tech On Tap, we cover the latest in tech, but sometimes creative use of old technologies can spark new ideas. Many of the readers of this article will be subscribers to the likes of Audible. Audible is a fantastic tool, but it’s not for everyone. Even when you simplify it down to just using a smart speaker, some less tech-savvy folks just won’t want to deal with it. For these people, a phone line with stories can be really cool.

We asked the artist behind the project (John Lilis) if he had considered Visually Impaired and blind people when creating the phone line. “Yes. My mum has been visually impaired for 22 years and the phone is such a vital lifeline for her. She’s not a fan of folklore, I’m afraid, so the dial a seanchaí phoneline wouldn’t be her cup of tea exactly but it definitely played a role in influencing the project. I think the phone has so much potential for visually impaired people, but also as a way for some of Ireland’s older generation to feel connected. There is an intimacy that comes with one person telling a story and another person listening. It’s an exchange in the sense that one person is sharing their voice and the other is sharing their ear. I feel like there’s something special in that.”

John is right, storytelling is important, and having it on an accessible medium like this is great to see. Dial a Seanchaí in its current form is only available until the end of November, so it’s very much an experience that exists for a moment in time. This is an art piece, more than an audiobook over-the-phone service.

With that said, the phone line did also have a temporary runback in 2021. Asked about the future, John said, “I guess the future of the project is something that really depends on whether we can get funding to continue to develop the project further. I would love to see it continue, but I think it will most likely remain in its current form. It’s a project that seems suited for this time of year, as the cold dark nights approach. I also kind of like the way it is momentary and limited. Without this, I’m not so sure people would call if they knew it was going to be archived indefinitely online. There are so many benefits to the internet and the fact that we have access to so much information and knowledge, but I wonder do we give art, culture, stories, etc. the attention and love they deserve when it’s all accessible at the touch of a button. Sometimes making things a little more difficult to acquire will push someone to cherish more when they receive it.”

On that note, I’d certainly recommend giving the line a call before the end of November. As I said above it’s a novelty in a way, but there is something beautiful and creative about it. It’s rare you hear creativity on phone lines these days, but it’s great to see.

To access the Dial A Seanchaí phoneline from Ireland, you can dial (065) 672 3466. To access the Dial A Seanchaí phoneline from the UK, use 020 8079 1720. And to access the Dial A Seanchaí phone line from the States, the number you need is (833) 611-2230 (Toll-Free)

Well done to everyone involved. A great project and a unique idea.

Have your say.

What’s your all-time favorite phone line experience? Were you a user of the now-deceased speaking Clock? Or were you a fan of phone line trivia and adventure games? Share your thoughts with us using our new email address, [email protected].

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