You still have a landline? Haw! The AZTECS had landlines!

OK, so I stole that line from Dave Barry, who said it once to make fun of people who had Betamax video recorders (“Beta?! The AZTECS had Beta!” — or something very much like that), which is made extra ironic because the triumphant VHS technology is now SO last century…

But you get the point. Landlines are rapidly going the way of buggy whips and, well, TV sets — at least in consumer’s minds.

TV sets? you say. Yes, TV sets. This from the Pew Center for Media Research:

Landlines And Television Sets Losing Importance

According to a new nationwide survey from the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project, reported by Paul Taylor and Wendy Wang with Lee Rainie and Aaron Smith, only 42% of Americans say they consider the television set to be a necessity. Last year, this figure was 52%, and in 2006, it was 64%.

After occupying center stage in the American household for much of the 20th century, says the report, two of the grand old luminaries of consumer technology, the television set and the landline telephone, are suffering from a sharp decline in public perception that they are necessities of life.

The drop-off has been less severe for the landline telephone. 62% of Americans say it’s a necessity of life, down from 68% last year, but 47% of the public now say that the cell phone is a necessity of life…

Note, first, that Pew, or at least the respondents, are using “need” and “necessity” in ways that would have puzzled our hardy pioneer ancestors. Note also that while fewer people see TVs as a necessity, they’re still buying them like crazy:

Even as fewer Americans say they consider the TV set to be a necessity of life, more Americans than ever are stocking up on them. In 2009, the average American home had more television sets than people, 2.86, according to a Nielsen report. In 2000, this figure was 2.43; in 1990, it was 2.0; and in 1975, it was 1.57.

The disconnect between attitudes and behaviors, opines the report, may be that the TV set hasn’t had to deal with competition from new technology that can fully replace all of its functions. If a person wants real-time access to the wide spectrum of entertainment, sports and news programming available on television, there’s still nothing (at least not yet) that can compete with the television set itself…

So don’t write the obit yet. But as for landlines — exactly why DO I still have one? So I won’t miss the telemarketing calls?

I see also that only 10 percent regard flat-screen HDTV as a necessity. It’s probably going to be in the high 90s before I get one. Mainly because, much as I want one, my sense of need is still pretty old-fashioned…

10 thoughts on “You still have a landline? Haw! The AZTECS had landlines!

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    We were going to kill the landline, but since we don’t carry our cell phones with us all over the house, we were concerned about losing 911 capability. There’s always a phone next to our bed with a landline!

    Basic service is only about $25 a month–which does add up to almost $300 a year, so if I could find a decent alternative….

  2. Rose

    Because when the power goes out and your cell phone battery dies, you can still call 911 with your landline.

  3. Karen McLeod

    Quite a few years ago I did the arithmetic and found that if I got rid of my landline I could increase my cell phone minutes to the point that I need not worry about them, upgrade my connection to the internet to high speed, and still have $5 a month left over. I haven’t missed my landline.

  4. Brad

    I sort of doubt I would, either. The whole scenario of needing to call 911 (which I can’t remember ever happening) at the same time that there isn’t a mobile in the house with any charge in it (which I’m not sure has ever happened, either) seems to me to be low-probability, and not necessarily worth paying more than $300 a year in “insurance,” just in case.

    As for that matter of my landline being “about $25 a month”… what’s that about? Why can’t it be a set amount a month, or at least the same on every month of equal number of days? Mine was $28.93 this past month. It’s always something different (and always MORE than $25).

    There are no variables. We cancelled long distance long ago (who PAYS for long distance in an era of cell phones?). Surely they’re not timing the calls and charging by the minute, as seldom as I use it. Surely there’s a base price that would more than cover the amount of time that we use it.

    The variability of that price just doesn’t seem right to me, not for a “just in case” thing that just sits there in the house, which we use hardly more than we would a fire extinguisher…

    Of course, the landline bill is stability itself compared to the wild, exorbitant fluctuations in the vast sums we shell out for the families several cell phones and one PDA. But at the very least, something as static and neglected as the landline should be predictable…

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    Yeah, I don’t understand the slight differences in phone bills from month to month.

    Our house is on three levels. My cellphone lives in my purse which is usually at level 1.5, near the front door. If I were to need to call 911 in the middle of the night, perhaps because I was alone (with just my two large dogs, who are useless at fetching me my pocketbook) I want a phone by my bedside. 911 is police, fire and ambulance. I just don’t want to mess with that.

  6. Kiki

    We have no TV or land line. Use cell phones and watch Netflix on laptops. And I actually did have an emergency one time and no cell phone on me in the house. Fortunately I had a laptop, so was able to get help via Facebook (I was locked in the room). As a mother of small children I worry about those real emergencies though, and figure if one of the kids stop breathing and we can’t find a cell, we can run to the neighbor’s pretty quick.

  7. Karen McLeod

    Kathryn, I simply have gotten in the habit of carrying my phone upstairs and putting it beside my bed at nite, then toting it back down in the AM.

  8. Herbie

    I have a wind-up radio with a USB port that can charge my cell phone. I haven’t had, or needed, a land line in 13 years. And 911 has worked well when I needed it.

  9. Hunter

    The landline is essential if you like getting sales calls. Otherwise, I agree with you, Brad, that the likelihood of needing to make a 911 call is very low. You’re more likely to make it over your cell, anyway, reducing the landline need to practically zero.

    Suspect you will eventually chang your mind about a flatscreen tv. Ours, initially opposed by my wife, is a major enhancement to our home entertainment. No question of its value to us, as we watch podcasts, view slideshows of family pictures over Apple TV, and listen to purchased music from iTunes over it, and, more frequently, streamed free music. I am guessing viewing cable tv on it is lately less than 30 percent of its use, with rented movies maybe once a week, if that. We got it for the Olympics. What a difference to be able to see even the faces of spectators!

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