Top 25 things vanishing from America: #20 -- Landlines

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This series explores aspects of America that may soon be just a memory -- some to be missed, some gladly left behind. From the least impactful to the most, here are 25 bits of vanishing America.

I bought my first cell phone in the late 1990's, and by now it's hard to remember what life was like before the device became my primary mode of communication. I now find myself watching old movies and wondering why the characters don't just send each other a text or two. My cell phone has become my Rolodex, my watch, my main form of communication, and a permanent fixture in my life.

All the same, I still have a land line. Granted, I don't know my phone number and I have the ringer permanently shut off, but there it is. Part of the reason that I'm clinging to this outmoded technology is the fact that it came free with my Internet package, and free just happens to be my favorite price. However, a large part of the reason for my landline is that it simply is a better way to communicate and it feels safer to have it as an option.

While I enjoy the convenience of my cell phone, I get tired of having to yell to be heard, having to repeat myself, and having to apologize whenever there's a siren in the background. I hate having to restrict my movements to the areas of my apartment that get good reception, having to cut off real-life conversations to answer my phone, and generally having an electronic leash that never lets me be out of touch. Some times, in fact, I turn off my phone or "accidentally" leave it at home.

There was a lot to be said for life without a cell phone umbilicus. While I could end up in danger, I was also completely free to discover things without a lifeline to friends and family. Shortly after I got a cell phone, I was hiking in the forest and got a little turned around. A quick call to a buddy of mine got me back on the trail and well on my way. While I was glad to have the help, I also felt like the world's biggest tool. Of course, given enough time, I could have found my way back to the trail, but the cell phone made it incredibly easy to cheat. Moreover, giving the complaints of my fellow hikers, I couldn't resist taking the easy way out.

Regardless of the romance of a pre-cell world, the post-cell world is definitely here to stay; according to a survey from the National Center for Health Statistics, at the end of 2007, nearly one in six homes was cell-only and, of those homes that had landlines, one in eight only received calls on their cells. For better or worse, my daughter is going to grow up in a world where she can always be reached at the touch of a button and she can always reach me just as easily. While it's nice that I will always be a phone call away, I also hope that she can find a way to grow independent while she remains tethered to me.

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. As wonderful as landlines were, he isn't going to miss telemarketers.



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