One of the most regrettable trends I’ve seen in recent years is how many acquaintances and friends have given up landlines entirely for their cellphones. Included in this trend are several of our grown offspring. At first, this trend was a mere inconvenience for me, solved by making certain I had a personal directory of all their cellphone numbers, both in the directory of my seldom-used cellphone [except when I’m traveling] and in a short hard-copy list on my desk.

Now, I know why people are shutting off their landlines. First, it gets rid of – at least for now – a huge percentage of the obnoxious charitable and political telemarketers (who are exempt from the federal do-not-call regulations) as well as the scam artists and shysters who ignore the lists. Second, it reduces total telecommunications expenses, sometimes significantly. Unfortunately, it also does one other thing. It makes it just about impossible to contact people who aren’t either relatives, close friends, or frequent business associates, for the simple reason that, unless there’s a service I don’t know about, it’s just about impossible to find out someone’s cellphone number except on a personal basis. On more than a few occasions, when urgent work issues came up or when power failures occurred, my wife was unable to inform some faculty members because, when the computers crashed at work, so did email access, and without either email or their telephone numbers…

Now, I suppose, for most people, all of that is just fine, but what it means is that, effectively, people who rely just on cellphones are narrowing their contacts with the wider world. Sometimes, this is more than a mere inconvenience. On one occasion it took us days to discover whether one of our grown children had in fact survived a hurricane because, first, the cellphone towers had been disabled, and second, they were without power for almost two weeks.

Then, too, on more than one occasion, we’ve wanted to include people that we’ve met at various gatherings and invite them to one social occasion or another. In several cases, it took weeks before we could get in contact because they had no lineline and were new to the area. Without a listed telephone number, it’s hard even to find an address to send a written invitation.

And, finally, the last problem I have with exclusive reliance on cellphones is that it’s a reflection of the “me” generation, the idea that what’s convenient and cost-effective for “me” is all that matters. It doesn’t matter if people have a hard time reaching you, but then, I understand that, too, because ninety-five percent of the calls our land-line receives are from charitable organizations or political shysters, and I’d just as soon not have to even look at the caller listing, let alone answer them, which we never do. Although the other five percent are still important, I can definitely see the temptation in just ditching the landline, and its costs, and regrettable as what that represents is, I wonder how long we’ll end up holding out.

10 thoughts on “Cellphones”

  1. Frank says:

    I admit that I have recently converted to cell phone only (i.e., no landline at my residence). Having that disclaimer, I wanted to point out another reason to have a landline at home…one of the more important reasons: if you have to dial 911, in many areas the emergency call center has your name and address come up on their dispatch computers immediately. This can be very important on emergency calls, especially if the caller is somewhat confused due to the emergency…which is often the case.

    Obviously, this consideration did not reach the threshold for me, personally, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

    BTW, thanks for all the wonderful books.

  2. Susie says:

    I made the switch because I wanted my then teen-age daughter to have a cellphone and to be able to reach me even if I wasn’t at home. It just didn’t make sense to pay for a landline as well.

    I love the fact that you address ordinary things (like food and animals) in your books along with the more “important” aspects.

  3. Tim says:

    In the UK you cannot currently get what is termed ‘naked DSL’ ie a landline just for a broadband service; you get a landline and pay for a voce service as well, even if you disconnect the phones and just use a cellphone. If people want 20-50 Mb/s then you have no choice as cellphone broadband is still limited to much less than this.

    So in the UK, landlines are normal. And yes we do get the cold callers – though rarely from charities or political agencies. With us, its is the green energy brigade and lawyer-backed companies hunting up mis-selling of insurance.

    Also, landlines come with battery backup so in the event of electrical power failure (which I experience probably twice a year, being in a rural area with overhead power lines) , all the cellphone masts go off and there is no signal. However, I can still make a call – at least until the batteries in the exchange fail which is around 48 hours.

  4. R. Hamilton. says:

    Most of it boils down to planning and courtesy – on both ends. People may have to ask for numbers more often; there is a trust issue then, that the name and number information not be sold or redistributed without permission.

    USB batteries, car chargers, and solar chargers can solve power issues for a cell phone itself. If car transportation is possible, one can drive to where there’s a functioning tower. Planning, again.

    Some new landlines are over cable or something other than the traditional copper loop, and those may not be as reliable in case of power failure, given extra powered components between the phone and the cable facility.

  5. Alan says:

    We were one of our last friends to get cell phones. We resisted, not seeing the reason for the cost. Land lines work fine, after all. But like many others, we found the convenience of cell phones (especially the modern smart phones which allow us to feed our internet addictions when not at home. Along with all the other applications we use too frequently) too much to resist.

    However, I remarked to a co-worker a few years ago about the ‘convenience’ of cell phones. My job, before I retired from the Navy, did not pay for my cell phone. Or my land line before that. Yet there is an expectation from employers, now, that a person be reachable at all times. Not only reachable, but that you will respond instantly to any communication. Be it text, phone or e-mail.

    I do not understand how society went from accepting that people have lives that do not mandate sitting about and waiting for a call to come, to expecting that you will be. When I first joined the Navy in the 90’s, if you were needed back at the boat, they called. If you weren’t home to answer, then an answering machine took the call and you got the message when you got home. There are things that take you away from home, after all. Grocery shopping or other activities. Even now, what if I am out at the movies? I certainly won’t have my cell phone on me during the film. So why do companies expect instant responses?

    1. R. Hamilton. says:

      In some cases, that’s a condition of the job. In the military, unless you’re on leave or pass, you’re to be reasonably nearby at all times even if outside normal shift hours, since you’re nominally available for duty at all other times; although that certainly allows going to store, movies, generally anywhere not off-limits in a reasonable vicinity (day trips).

      In other jobs, being on-call is part of the job. A bunch of system administrators might rotate an office cell phone among them on some schedule; in which case they might for their turn (a week or two perhaps) have to respond almost any time they weren’t at their desk; that sometimes meant no calls, sometimes meant a couple of silly ones that could be handled on the phone, and sometimes meant coming in during the night or weekend half a dozen times. Did that for years, not great fun. One good aspect was that whoever got the phone tended to be a bit more proactive about cleaning up anything that they could that required no down time and might reduce the likelihood of calls; the person on call was after all, the most motivated. 🙂 Oh, for that week, one probably didn’t go to fancy places or expensive events, but if one went to a cheap movie, the phone could be set on vibrate to provide a silent signal.

      If such things are a routine occurrence, they should _usually_ be a condition of employment or of the position, clearly disclosed. But many jobs might have a recall procedure in case of emergency; even something as mundane as retail jobs might need to be able to call in extra people during Christmas shopping season, and managers even more than ordinary employees may be subject to occasional call-in.

      Far more jobs need someone available 24/7 than actually need someone on-site 24/7. For non-managers, the extra hours are probably paid, and even time actually spent on the phone might be compensated if in excess of some minimum, although there may not be extra pay merely for being available if not called in.

      There can be abuses both ways, of course – either excessive calls or those who always seem to duck their share of calls.

      Sometimes being reachable is to one’s advantage. In the situation our host described, perhaps some of those that couldn’t have been reached were not actually involved in fixing a problem so much as being prepared to deal with its aftermath, and might have been able to do so more nearly at their convenience had they been available. On that point – a subset of contact info should probably be in printed form, in a secured location (locked container where only those entitled to use it had access); likewise, any other information needed for recovery should be printed, and if there are offsite contingency facilities, should be prepared for those as well. That allows for “what do I do next” when online sources are not available. Don’t forget that a portion of computer and software vendor documentation (often no longer provided in printed form) also falls in that category; and should either be available in printed form or on a (charged) laptop.

  6. D Archerd says:

    I’ve continued to stick with home landline service despite increasing reliance on a smartphone, both for the emergency call location reason and because it is useful to have an alternate form of service in case the cellphone service goes down. Plus if I’m going to have an extended conversation with someone, it’s a lot more comfortable using a landline receiver than having to hold a hot cellphone next to my cheek for 30 minutes or more. Yeah, yeah, I know I could use my earpiece, but I’ve seen those guys walking around with their earpiece permanently glued in place (trying to imply, I suppose, that their job is so important they must literally be on their cellphone constantly) and I just don’t want to be “that guy”.

    But if it’s any consolation, I now probably get a equal number of telemarketing calls on my cellphone as my landline, so there’s really no escape. My policy is to automatically hang up as soon as it’s obvious that the call is a recorded “robocall” and if it’s a live person, politely but firmly explain that we NEVER do business with telemarketers and then hanging up. Folks, telemarketing survives because it works. If everyone simply hung up immediately, it would wither on the vine.

    1. JakeB says:

      I get a lot of calls asking from contributions from the local city symphony since I buy tickets every now and then and am required to put in a phone number when I order. I have their numbers listed in my cellphone as “Those F***heads at the Symphony.” It allows me to ignore the call but the amusement it affords me is also a benefit.

    2. I fear you’re an optimist. We’ve been doing just what you outline, and while some groups don’t call back, the calls keep coming even though we’ve never bought or contributed through a phone solicitation.

  7. Kevin T says:

    We still have a landline, although the service is part of our cable television / Internet service, and so isn’t technically connected to the local telephone exchange. We kept the same number we had before.

    We use this line so seldom that when it rings, it takes a moment to remember what that strange sound signifies. It is almost always some form of telemarketer, but once in a while it’s an old friend who hasn’t updated his contact list to include our cell phones.

    I recently read a short essay about how to deal with telemarketers. One technique was to initially feign interest and then asking the caller to hold. Leave them on hold for as long as possible, occasionally getting back on the line and apologize for the wait, asking them to continue to hold. Finally, you can apologize for making them wait so long before asking them what it feels like to have their time wasted.

    I haven’t had an opportunity to try this, but I doubt I’d be able to pull it off. I don’t think I’m good enough an actor to pull off the ‘feigning interest’ part.

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