Obsolescence or Plot?

Perhaps my wife and I are old-fashioned, or too cautious. It also might be that we find long conversations on a cell phone tiring, but for whatever the reasons, we not only have cell phones, but a landline as well.

This has downsides I never imagined, as when, last week, the handset on my office phone decided that it would no longer retain the cord leading to the body of the thirty-year-old landline telephone in my office. I thought the problem was in the cord and decided to get a replacement cord – only to find that not a single place in Cedar City carried replacement cords. I did find one at the Staples in Salt Lake City, which arrived three days later. Although I’d taped the old cord to the handset in the meantime, that didn’t work all that well, and it turned out that the handset couldn’t hold the new cord any better than the old one had.

So I decided to replace the entire telephone, but, again, although we have CenturyLink, Verizon, and AT&T stores/offices here in Cedar City, none of them carried any landline telephones – even though their websites said that they did. Nor did any of the big box stores, whose websites said they carried them – but didn’t. It also turned out that the second landline phone, from a seldom-used corner of the house, that I’d pressed into use to replace my office telephone also didn’t work particularly well. So I’ve had to order two landline phones.

It also struck me that the landline phone lasted thirty years at a fraction of the cost of the cheapest cell phone, and I’m on my third cell phone in the last fifteen years.

Sheerly coincidentally, the local paper carried a story noting that roughly a quarter of Americans still don’t use cell phones and rely strictly on landlines. That got me to thinking. If I have this trouble getting a replacement landline telephone, who’s going to supply telephones for the roughly eighty million people who still need them? Or do the manufacturers think all those eighty million are suddenly going to switch? Or is this a nefarious plot to force them to switch?

6 thoughts on “Obsolescence or Plot?”

  1. Mayhem says:

    So almost all economies are discontinuing landlines – the replacement units you can get behind the scenes are really basically cellphones with a handset attached that do voip.
    Part of this is the cost of maintaining ageing exchanges, but a not insignificant factor is the sheer metal value in the copper wires.
    I was involved in a project a decade ago in central London replacing BT copper with fibre, they were pulling a million pounds a day in raw copper out of the tunnels, and it was so pure it actually depressed the global copper market for a while. It essentially covered the cost for rolling out fibre to the home broadband across the UK.
    I would expect much of the infrastructure in the US to be similar, although vendor lock-in and local monopolies have slowed the pace considerably.

    1. Postagoras says:

      Wow, Mayhem, that’s a great story! Thanks for sharing it.

      It reminds me of David Brin’s prediction that we would someday be mining our landfills for trace elements locked up in trashed computers. Which would be much more complex than recycling copper wire, of course.

      1. Mayhem says:

        There’s a great phrase – the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.
        A friend recently worked in rural Kenya, where the Maasai herdsmen still build thorn fences to protect their stock at night. But they have wireless sensors monitoring them, and buy and sell them using mobile phones and sms and online payments. It’s safer than cash and mobile coverage is remarkably solid.
        Turns out many fast developing nations skipped entirely past copper cabling and went all in on wireless, because the infrastructure costs are so much lower. It’s the western economies that are struggling to modernise now, because the vested interests are still milking their previous tech.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    Copper landlines were in some respects more robust, because basic phones (not cordless or other fancy features) were powered by the local exchange, meaning they probably worked even if the power went out. Fiber replacements with some adapter to hook up to existing house phone wiring include backup batteries for that very reason, but they may not last as long.

    1. Elena says:

      Yes. The house I grew up in had a phone wired into the wall in a nice little niche, and I distinctly remember my parents using it when the power had gone out for a few hours to a day or so – usually trying to figure out who among family/friends still had power so we could go and get a hot meal/fill thermoses etc (esp. for winter power outages).

  3. Bill says:

    Next time you need a landline phone, try Goodwill or a thrift store. You might have to tell Goodwill that you are looking for one because they will likely throw them out. I have several landline phones that I would give you for the postage price. As far as most people are concerned, they are worthless except maybe as props in a period drama.
    People still have landlines, but they aren’t buying phones and when their handset dies, they will cancel their service.

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