Six years ago I finally gained the courage to give up my landline. I had thought about doing it before then, but it took a while for me to trust wireless technology enough to cut the umbilical cord. Now I'm using my cellphone as my primary means of communication for both personal and business purposes.
In hindsight, terminating my landline service should've been an easier decision to make. I was using my home phone less and less over the years, while smartphone and mobile technology was providing more and more convenience, and added benefits like Internet access and slick applications. That wall phone hanging in my kitchen is now an abandoned relic, far past its glory days.
I remember when telephone booths started disappearing from the landscape in the mid 90s, you'd have a difficult time trying to find one today. In Colorado, U.S. West (remember them?) was removing phone booths by the hundreds — some sold to employees as mementos even. During that time I was a contractor for U.S. West and I purchased a phone booth for $120.00. It used to be in a courthouse, made of solid oak with a working light, ceiling fan and folding doors. It’s been in my garage for over 20 years.
It seems the telephone companies were far ahead of the consumers in realizing communicating with copper lines would become like taking a cruise on a steamboat. Granted, their decisions were based on profit margins and pragmatism, while the public often leans towards familiarity and sentimentality.
Even Hollywood had to come to terms with the technological change — most of the classic horror movies could have ended within the first two minutes if the victims had a cellphone. Now, screenwriters have to be creative and incorporate a plausible reason why a camp full of teenagers can’t make a phone call — not an easy task — or create a story set in previous decades.
Landlines were familiar, reliable, and made us comfortable even if we didn't use it much. We didn't get rid of them because they did not work anymore, it’s just that we became just as comfortable with the new, intoxicating technology. Six years ago when I asked how many of my students still had landlines at home, about three-quarters of them raised their hands. When I ask the same question now, it’s less than a quarter, and it's fair to assume none of them use landlines exclusively.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cellphone-only households surpassed households with both landlines and cellphones for the first time in 2016. (You may be wondering, like I was, why the CDC would keeps track of such data. It appears that cellphone only people drink, smoke and are uninsured more when compared to people that use landlines. A mystery to me but perhaps a great future topic for this column.)
But though its glory days may be past, there’s still good reasons to use a landline; the technology (even for cordless phones) still gives better reception than cellphones, and it can prove to be more reliable during some disasters because it does not depend on the power grid. 911 operators know exactly where you are when dialed form a landline, without having to use GPS tracking — not to mention how inexpensive it's become.
We should not lament the death of the landline, it may never die. Compact disc replaced vinyl records not necessarily because the sound was better, but because of convenience. The sound itself did not produce a noticeable difference, to most ears, and some audiophiles will never let vinyl die.
The same can be expected with with landlines, albeit with less pop-culture appeal. There’s no disputing the convenience of a cellphone over a landline, but with a technology as elegant, sturdy and dependable as a landline telephone, you can be sure that this old technology will be with us for much longer than anyone can predict.
Thomas Russell is a high school information technology teacher and retired Army Signal Corps soldier. He is the founder of SEMtech (Student Engagement and Mentoring in Technology) and an Advisory Board Member of Educating Children of Color. His hobbies include writing, photography and hiking. Contact Thomas via Russell’s Room on Facebook, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and his photography at thomasholtrussell.zenfolio.com.