Over at Jim Romenesko’s media blog, Jim has a post titled “You Still Need A Landline? Really!?” Note the exclamation point and question mark combo that signifies utter confusion and surprise. It’s on a story about a new Pew Research Center poll conducted about what technology people would miss the most if they had to give it up (you can see the chart at the link above). Most people will miss the Internet, cell phones, and television, which seems reasonable. But there are many who would miss their landlines too.
Yes, I still need a landline, and I bet you do too, even if you don’t realize it.
The reasons are all the reasons that people are giving in Jim’s comment section and on his Facebook page: a lot of rural communities don’t have cell towers, your cell loses battery power, there isn’t a strong signal, towers going out during storms, long conversations aren’t comfortable. And to that list I would add you don’t have to worry about minutes or various other charges, you don’t get charged for certain incoming calls or texts, there’s more privacy, and local 911 works better.
I have never, ever, not once, had a cell phone conversation that was 100% glitch-free. The call was either interrupted, filled with static, or at the very least an odd one second delay in our responses. As for landlines, I can’t remember the last time I had any problem with them.
The funny thing is, I see a lot of people using their cell phones but many of them aren’t even using them as phones anymore. It’s all texting and posting on Facebook/Twitter (which means the comfort reason above won’t make sense to people who don’t actually, you know, talk on the phone). In 50 years we’re going to be a race of people with giant thumbs but the inability to speak complete sentences.
I remember the first phone we had when I was a kid, a classic black rotary phone that must have weighed about 5 pounds (if we had thrown it against the wall it would have put a hole in it – try that will your cell). We had to rent it from the phone company. We had one phone in the house, and it was on top of one of the tables in the corner of the kitchen, next to the fridge and the spice rack. If we wanted to talk on the phone we had to actually come downstairs, sit in the chair and talk right there in the kitchen. No roaming around the house or taking the call in our bedrooms or in the living room.
Teens and twentysomethings are reading that last paragraph and shaking their heads at how barbaric those times must have been. Yes, it was a sad time when we couldn’t play with birds that were angry or even snap pics of our food and post them for all the world to see.
I’ve told this story before: a friend of mine was going to be interviewed on the air by NPR over the phone. Because they’re so unreliable, NPR (and others) don’t allow people to use their cell phones. So he had to go on Facebook and actually ask people who lived in New York City if anyone had a landline he could use for the interview.
Will cell phones be as solid/reliable as landlines one day? Maybe. Probably. But who knows. You’d think they’d have the technology down by now. (It seems most people will happily give up quality for convenience.) I want to live in a world where we have both landlines and cells.
I know several people who have completely ditched their landlines and rely only on their cells now (a story I read said that over 50% of people don’t have a landline or have one and never use it). Which means they’re always reachable now. How is this a good thing? They’re no separation anymore between the “connected” part of our lives and the “unreachable” part of our lives. And I wonder how many of those people have lost their phone, had it stolen, or dropped it in the toilet or on the floor?
Hey, cell phones are great. Great for emergencies, convenient, and from the conversations I overhear as I’m shopping at the supermarket, they’re especially great for when husbands have to call their wives and ask “What was the name of that thing you wanted again? Hello? I can’t hear you. What?
So it’s good that some people still use their landlines. I am worried though about the number of people who say they’d miss social media, though I guess there’s some comfort in the fact that it was last on the list at 10%. I thought it would be a lot more. Hashtag relieved.