Amy Eddings: Reconsidering the landline

By Amy Eddings -

I didn’t want a landline when I moved to my home in Ada. But I had to get one in order to get the best package deal from Time Warner for cable and internet service.

“That’s just wrong!” I remember saying to the poor customer service representative, who’d probably heard similar outbursts before. “You’re forcing us to pay for a service that we’re not going to use. One that NOBODY’S using anymore!”

I took the landline as part of a Triple Play package and immediately had the rep set up call forwarding to a cellphone.

It was an overstatement to say that nobody’s using landlines anymore. A 2016 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 41 percent of American households had both wireless service and a landline. A sliver of the households surveyed, just 7 percent, had only a landline connection to the outside world.

But landlines are vanishing. According to the survey, nearly half of households — 48.3 percent — had only cellphone service. That figure has been steadily increasing since 2012, when it was 38 percent. More than two-thirds of adults between the ages of 25 and 34 were living in wireless-only households, said the CDC.

Vanishing with them are opportunities to have serendipitous conversations with other people in a household, conversations that were made possible because they were the ones who happened to answer the phone.

This didn’t register as a loss until my mom made mention of it.

We were talking — I was on my cellphone, she was on her landline — and I asked, as I usually do, if she had news from my siblings.

She told me she had talked to my oldest brother in Dallas, briefly, but she didn’t have any details about my sister-in-law or my niece and nephew.

“I hardly ever get a chance to talk to the kids, or Ronelle,” she said of her grandchildren and daughter-in-law, “unless Mike’s at home and he passes his cellphone to them.”

A cellphone isn’t about serendipity and chance, except if you butt dial someone. A cellphone offers targeted communication and pinpoint accuracy. It facilitates calling a person, not a household.

I pictured my mom calling each member of my brother’s family on their cellphones, one by one, to talk to them.

I thought of my niece and nephew, and how they don’t have the experience, as I did as a little kid, of racing my brothers and sister to the ringing telephone. “I’ll get it!” we’d yell. It was a privilege to answer it, to be deemed responsible enough to answer the phone on your parents’ behalf.

They — and we, now, with caller ID — also don’t get to feel that little zing of anticipation: Who was calling, stranger or friend? And who was the call for? Was it for Mom, Dad, one of my brothers, or — breathless, fingers crossed— was it for me?

Once into adulthood, phone calls lose their mystery and ability to excite. They represent interruptions and annoyances: the bill collector, the pollster, the robot telling us we qualify for refinancing on a student loan. I love the ability to send these calls to voicemail or block them with a tap of my finger. I also love the efficiency and convenience of ATMs, self-checkouts at the grocery store and EZ Pass toll booths.

But I also miss exchanging pleasantries with a toll collector or asking my bank teller whether she’s finally shrugged off the bad cold she had last week. I miss the chance encounters, the exchange of pleasantries, a five-minute conversation with Grammy before I passed the phone on to Mom.

Last week, I called Time Warner and had them cancel the call forwarding I had set up for my landline. So far, it’s meant sprinting to the phone for pollsters and wrong number calls. It will take a while to retrain my friends and family to try our house phone before resorting to our cells. But already, the decision has brought new energy to our house.

Instead of “Your phone’s ringing,” we’re now saying to each other, “I’ll get it!”

We’ve become a household, and not just two cellphone numbers living under one roof.

By Amy Eddings

Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or on Twitter, @lima_eddings.

Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or on Twitter, @lima_eddings.

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