That’s according to a report in the (London-based) Sunday Times, which cited cultural historians and surveys suggesting that by providing entertainment on the go, mobile devices (including portable music players), have more or less eliminated the main reason people have whistled: boredom. In one survey by YouGov, 70% of respondents said they hear less whistling than they did two or three decades ago.
Of course it’s not just mobile: the decrease in whistling is also due to the decline of jobs traditionally associated with whistling, like milkmen and errand boys. In one sad piece of anecdotal evidence that probably also reflects generational differences, a longtime milkman noted that he received a warning in 2013 after residents complained about his cheerful whistling (I can just see the yuppies rolling their eyes as they scroll through their feeds).
So it seems whistling may be on its way to join handwritten letters, telegrams, photo albums, and accepting long-distance charges in the long list of practices rendered obsolete by communications technology. But the trend seems a little more significant because the demise of these other activities was simply a case of new technology replacing old, whereas whistling is a basic physical process and skill that we’re apparently losing touch with. (Well, some of us: I can’t whistle, anyway.)