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.