Three reasons to keep the land line

SDXB called the other day to say he’s going to get rid of his land line. Figures it’s going to save him a ton of money. Not only is he going to ditch the land line, he’s also going to kill his Cox high-speed Internet connection, effectively taking his computer offline. His plan is to haul his laptop to the library whenever he wants to read his e-mail. Won’t that be fun?

He’s not alone on the land line issue. The other day Echo, over at Boomer and Echo, reflected on the joy of land-line freedom, listing three good reasons to get rid of the thing.

Me, I’m not so sure. If you don’t already have a cell phone, which I don’t because I can’t afford it and I don’t deeply want one, several reasons argue strongly in favor of keeping the land line. Even if you do have cell service, there’s no reason to rush to judgment. Consider…

Cost

Around here, cell phone service runs about $60 a month—that’s before you buy the gadget, which can cost several hundred dollars. Get yourself into a cell phone plan, and you may not be able to get out, even if the service stinks. Experience suggests that most service from most communication providers stinks. I would, for example, never go near Qwest again, and all you have to do is enter terms like “Verizon,” “Comcast,” or “At&T” into the Consumerist search bar to be given permanent pause about cell phone providers in general.

Cox’s land line costs all of $29, half of what SDXB pays for a cell phone connection that does not keep him in touch if he goes hiking very far into the sticks, exactly when you would have the most need for such a connection. So, while yes, he will save money by canceling the land line, he pays twice as much for the privilege.

Convenience

Own a cell phone, and you have a cell phone: that’s one, count it, (1). When it jangles or vibrates at you, you have to find it. That may be easy enough if you’re a guy, because you probably tote the thing around in a pocket everywhere you go. But most women’s clothes don’t have pockets. So that means the cell gets put down…wherever you happened to put it down, or wherever you happen to have last dropped your purse.

So, every time the thing goes off, what are you gonna do? Run all over the freaking house trying to find it, that’s what.

Last time I bought a land-line phone—it was very cheap, by the way—it came with not one, not two, not three, but five extensions. I’ve got a phone in every room, and every one of them has its own squawk box. If I set one down and can’t find it quickly when someone jangles me up, all I have to do is walk into the next room to pick up another unit. My phone is never lost!

I don’t happen to think having to carry an electronic tether everywhere you go is especially convenient. Nor is it convenient to have to remember to turn it off whenever you go into a restaurant, a theater, a church, or choir practice. At choir, we pay a $5 fine every time our cell phone goes off. One of our members underwrites cake and cookies for 50 people with her repeating fines.

Freedom

Speaking of having to carry an electronic tether around, that’s exactly what a cell phone is. If you’re hauling that thing everyplace you go, you really have no excuse not to answer it.

What happened to privacy? What, hevvin help us, ever happened to alone time? Who needs to yak on the phone while driving, while walking around the grocery store, while sitting at a restaurant, while strolling down the street, while hiking in the desert? About 99.9999 percent of phone calls can wait until you get home or to the office.

When people can bombard you with phone calls everyplace you go and demand your attention right now, you’re never free. Your time is never your own. Even turning the thing off doesn’t really free you. You’re expected to check in regularly, or let the phone nag you by vibrating at you. If you don’t, you feel guilty and antsy until you do so and then get back to callers, often not at your convenience but right this minute.

I appreciate hearing from my friends and business associates, but I feel no need for that degree of connectivity. Or for that degree of immediacy. Except for the occasional car wreck, nothing really needs to be dealt with instantaneously. When I’m out and about, I’d rather have the peace and quiet, thank you, to focus on what I’m doing and who I’m with. When I get to a landing spot, that’s when I’ll deal with callers’ issues.

As for freedom from nuisance phone calls, I rarely get telephone solicitations anymore. The National Do-Not-Call List proved to be surprisingly effective. For those rogue solicitors and off-shore pests who scoff at the law, a handy device called the TeleZapper disconnects almost all of them. Phone solicitation stopped being a problem for me several years ago.

Contrarianeity

The cell phone is one of those gadgets that brings to mind my mother’s favorite old chestnut: Just because the some of the sheep jump off the cliff doesn’t mean we all have to. IMHO, the very fact that everyone else is doing something is a good reason not to do it. Especially if it costs you money.

Does anyone ever consider how silly a person looks, walking down the street yapping on the phone and not paying the slightest bit of attention to anything around her? How annoying her blatting voice is as she shares her private business with ten or fifteen people who don’t. want. to. know? How insulting it is to interrupt a face-to-face conversation to pull a phone out of your pocket and answer an inconsequential call? Or how spectacularly dangerous and stupid it is to drive with one hand on the steering wheel and the other punching numbers into a cell phone?

Now, I’ll admit I’d love to have one of those swell smartphones, which really are less telephones and more extremely portable computers. But that’s not going to happen, because I can’t afford it. Failing that, I don’t see any good reason to tie an electronic tether around my neck.

A land line lets you stay in touch, without making you look like a fool or putting you at risk. By and large, it keeps you in control of who you’re going to speak with and when. I wouldn’t get rid of it, even if I could afford a smartphone.

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Just Heather January 4, 2011 at 11:55 am

We ditched out land line years ago, but none of these are the issues that gave me pause. I was concerned about our internet access, but we still have DSL. I was concerned about our security system, but they can also run a line without it. I was concerned about having a phone on site, if our kids were home with a sitter. We compromised by adding a $10/month phone to our existing cell plan.

Now, my thoughts on your points:

1. I was paying $40/month for a landline we never used. My cell plan is also $40/month, but only $10/month for each additional line. The phones were free. Sure, you can get expensive phones (which we have since done to have internet access on the go) or add text messaging & data plans, but basic plans are very inexpensive.

2. There are several bluetooth capable cordless phones on the market that connect to your cell phone, giving you extensions all over the house. There is also a convenient tool out there to make the phone lines inside your home run on your cell phone line.

3. Just don’t answer it. I *never* answer my cell phone, unless it is a convenient time for me to do so. My mom doesn’t even take hers around with her very often. She keeps it in the home, then in the car when she leaves. It’s not a tether, unless you make it one.

Barb January 4, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Funny, you touched a sore spot with me, having teen boys. First off, I was very late to get a cell phone. I didn’t see a need. Now I do have a pay-as-you-go and am required to spend $20 every three months. I do not use it often, but when I need it, I need it. Like on vacation when we got to the hotel and they didn’t have our reservation and I had to call home to the travel agent to get us in somewhere NOW. She had to make some calls and got it all figured out. WHEW! Next the thing died and I had to start up a new one, but lost all of my contact phone numbers. If I can even remember who I had in there, I will start up an old-fashioned paper address book again. Anyway, on this rare vacation to a warm place, teen son did nothing but text his GF and others. This was constant. I feel he missed the here and now and it’s so rude. So I told him no more vacations unless he leaves the phone home. I doubt if we will take any more trips ;( Other son tried to get out of a 2 year contract that I told him not to get in the first place, and now had to pay 3 months penalty to cancel to the tune of over $200. Barb

funny January 4, 2011 at 3:17 pm

@ Barb: {sigh} It took my son the longest time to get the message about ungluing himself from the phone while in a live human’s presence. I think one of his friends must have beat him about the head and shoulders, because he certainly wasn’t worrying about how the old bat across the table felt.

Argh, I hope that wasn’t your $200 that’s getting flushed. Well, eventually they grow up. If they’re 16 or 18, you’ve only got another 10 or 12 years… ;-)

Donna Freedman January 4, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Safety? If someone’s breaking into my apartment or if I decide to have a heart attack, the 911 operator can send someone over even if I can’t get the words out as to where, exactly, I am. It’s my understanding that a cell phone might not always provide that kind of locator service…?
Work. I’m a writer whose office is the living room. My cell phone doesn’t get the best reception due to the location of our building. Besides, it’s easy to wear out the battery and still be only halfway through the calls I need to make that day. The land line doesn’t quit on me.
Don’t get me wrong: I like having a cell, especially since I’ve been traveling a lot this year. But I don’t want to give up my land line.
P.S. I don’t have texting, either.

Echo January 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Hi Funny, thanks for the link to my article on ditching my landline. I do agree with most of your points, except for the point about not getting service when you’re out hiking. Umm, ok…I don’t see where your landline helps you there either :)

We had a landline like everyone else, and then my work required me to get a cellphone (never had one before) and they pay for it too. My wife has always had a cell phone, so we figured what the heck do we need this landline for anyways? Our friends and family just call our cell phones, and so all that we were getting on our landline were the “free trips if we pressed 1 now” kind of calls.

It would be a different story if we had kids old enough to talk on the phone (we have a 20 month old daughter). And we don’t use our phones while driving and don’t carry on conversations in public places or do any of those other annoying things that a lot of people do with their phones.

I definitely agree that it’s not for everybody though, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Milehimama January 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm

We still have a landline. We have kids, and there’s no way THEY’RE getting a cell phone (but there’s also no way I want all their friends calling my cell).

Also, because we have kids, I need there to be a phone at the house of some sort when I’m gone and someone’s watching the kids. I don’t want to count on reaching the babysitter on her cell phone.

And if the kids have to call 911- the dispatcher will be able to find us. The 4 yo could call 911 in an emergency but wouldn’t be able to give our address.

I think if you have kids old enough to get phone calls, you really do need a landline (although all my kids’ friends have cell phones – age 8 and 9!)

Ellen2 January 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I do have a cell phone. It is for my convenience only, always off unless I wish to use it. Like last week in 15 degree weather when I locked the keys in the car at the store. It was very handy to call my husband for HELP. However, nobody gets to call me on it. It drives some of my children crazy, but I don’t think anybody needs to talk to me when I’m out and about. Like Barb, I pay $20 every three months.

Barb January 4, 2011 at 9:00 pm

No, not my $200+ ;)
I didn’t even buy their phones, they did. They bug me for a family plan, but I said that if I felt the need for them to have a phone, I would. But I haven’t yet. So I am a reluctant cell phone user, it’s only for necessity. And yes, we still have a land line. It’s connected to our internet so I can’t dump it even if I wanted to.

Shelley January 5, 2011 at 2:39 am

I equate mobile phones with being tethered to work. Now that I’m retired I have one, but forget to charge it. If I carry it, it’s off until I need to make a call. I relish not being available most of the time – and I have no friends, it’s true. We keep our landline because British Telecom – the UK version of AT&T, I guess – maintains the phone lines. If your internet service goes caput, your ISP is likely to first blame the phone lines. If you are not a BT landline customer (there are others) we came to feel we didn’t get much priority in fixing the lines. As a BT landline customer and a BT Broadband customer, we feel we get top priority. Who says they don’t still have a monopoly?

Darla January 5, 2011 at 4:20 am

We have a pay as you go cell phone. It is mainly carried while traveling – lots of winding backroads in the mountains. Our two adult children are the only people who even have the number. Every once in awhile I use my accumulated minutes to call long distance friends. Otherwise it is like an insurance policy really – there for us to call out in an emergency.

Has anyone noticed how difficult it is to find a public pay phone these days? They have all but disappeared in our area.

Darla

funny January 5, 2011 at 8:36 am

@ Darla: You touch on a really important point. No pay phones = no way to call for help when your car craps out.

However, did you realize that ALL cell phones can dial 911, whether they’re connected to a service or not? I have an old cell that can be carried around in the car for that purpose. It’s not easy to remember to keep it charged…but one should. You still couldn’t call your spouse or friend to come help you with a non-police emergency. But if something really dire happens, you don’t have to pay $20 to $60 a month for the privilege of calling a cop or an ambulance.

That’s in the U.S., anyway. @ Shelley: Interesting perspective from Britain. I recall when I was there–several decades ago, before people carried their own phones everywhere they went–that phone service was pretty challenging, especially when you tried to use a pay phone. Over time, though, U.S. phone service has become comparable, and of course pay phones have all but disappeared. Alas, too, our telephone booths were never capable of interstellar time travel. ;-)

@ Echo: I loved your article. It was well written and interesting. It’s awesome to have your employer pay for the cell, and absolutely if the Great Desert University had done that, I would have leapt at the opportunity. I believe my dean had them covering hers, but she was in a position to project a much more focused image of self-importance than I could pull off.

@ Barb: Some people feel there’s a benefit, once the kids are old enough, to providing them with cells. It makes it easy for them to call home or, if necessary, call 911 if they run into a problem while they’re out and about. And really…that makes some sense. The main thing is to find a way to keep the kid from running up a big bill, yakking and texting with friends. And of course, a cell phone is highly losable.

@ Donna: good points. I never could figure out the connectivity issue. In our building, cell phone waves (or whatever they are) couldn’t get through the walls. So all our staff had to go outside whenever they wanted to make or take a call on their cells. This proved to be quite a nuisance for them.

E. Murphy January 5, 2011 at 9:29 am

Thank you for your whole perspective. I carry a cell for one reason only, in case the car breaks down, and it’s off the rest of the time.

But I don’t get an entire civilization that has come to insist on expressing every thought that crosses their mind, no matter how mundane.

And don’t get me started on being on your cell and ignoring people in your presence. Are all people skills dying out?

Holly January 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm

I agree on all points…especially the one when you’re trying to have some downtime and your phone rings, so you don’t answer it; and then, VOILA, your cell rings. Then you feel almost obligated to pick up. RIGHT!?

George Fedelski January 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm

We got rid of our last land line in 2009.

Both the Mrs. and I have cell phones and we have a VOIP phone in the office provided by the ISP we work for. It’s primary use is for work but I can call anywhere on it for free.

I don’t think there are many pay phones here in our town as they weren’t making the phone company any money so they pulled them out.

eemusings January 6, 2011 at 9:41 pm

We keep the landline because NZ is so backward, it’s still difficult to get internet without one.

Plus then local calls are free, and BF actually does use it to call his family, and I use for the odd interview or to schedule appointments. Plus it’s always a backup should we run out of cell phone credit and desperately need to make a call (we both have prepaid phones).

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