One step forward… one step back?

The other day my mum and I were discussing our respective phone bills. Discussing bills is something we often do, competitively comparing how low or high our gas, electricity or water bills are, so there was nothing unusual in that. What did make it slightly unusual is that we were discussing our landline telephone bills.

Usually when people are talking about their phone bills they’re referring to their mobile phones. But Mum and I both have unlimited, “all you can eat” type mobile phone accounts and so we find that increasingly we’re making calls on our mobiles, instead of on our landlines. Which in turn means that our landline bills are getting lower and lower.

At the end of the conversation mum said she was considering cancelling her landline altogether. I implored her not to, pointing out that mobile phone reception is unreliable (especially in her house) and that batteries can die and leave you unreachable. After about a minute she had changed her mind.

I know, I know: people have been ditching their landlines for a while now, not seeing the point in paying two phone bills, and surviving. I have several friends who have not had a landline for several years and recently another close friend announced that she, too, has cancelled her landline.

The other day I read about how a phone number is increasingly associated with a person, not a building. Even I only ever give out my mobile phone to people and I make far more calls on my mobile than I do on my landline, even when I’m at home.

The thing is, I think there is something we are all sacrificing by moving away from our landlines and that something is call quality. Mobile phone reception is unreliable. Calls drop out all the time. Or voices become so garbled that it is impossible to make sense of them. Lines can be crackly and static-y.

I don’t know about you, but there are only so many times I am willing to say to someone, “Can you repeat that, I missed it.” After about the fifth or sixth time I’m just willing to let go and miss whatever it is that is being said or give up on the conversation altogether.

Or you’re trying to get in touch with someone during the evening and the next day they come back to you with, “Sorry about that; the phone died and I had it on the charger and didn’t hear it…” (And I do appreciate that sometimes that’s just a convenient excuse for when you don’t want to answer the phone, but it’s also a genuine phenomenon.)

Isn’t this a step back in time? We’ve come so far with landline technology that it can sound like someone you’re talking to overseas is in the next room to you, and we’re choosing to talk on mobiles which make someone in the next room sound like they’re on the other side of the world. With a hand over their mouth. In the middle of a sandstorm.

It’s not just call quality that we’re sacrificing; it’s conversation quality. It’s communication quality.

Yes, mobile technology is great, and it’s getting better and it’s very, very convenient. I totally get all that. But there’s something about this convenience that I’m a bit sceptical of because it comes at a cost that we don’t really appreciate or acknowledge.

For me it’s similar to the so-called awesome convenience of having a smartphone. I’ve considered getting an iPhone many times. I have a Mac and an iPad. It seems like the natural next step.

Friends and co-workers have tried to persuade me. “Think of all the things you’ll be able to do,” they say. Whenever I do think about how I’d use it, though, say to check my emails or Twitter on the train on the way to work, I realise that I really enjoy using that time to read a book. Or to just stare out the window and daydream. I like not being connected all the time. I like being disconnected.

Not to mention which you can’t tell me that squinting down into a small screen all day long (and I’m including those massive Samsung Galaxy phones here) is good for anyone’s eyesight. I’m already wearing contacts and my optometrist tells me that it’s only my deteriorating short-sightedness that is balancing out my emerging long-sightedness. I’m not messing any more with my eyes, man, not for all the convenience in the world.

It’s why I still have a dumbphone, not a smartphone. And why, as long as they’re available, I’ll still have a landline.woman and man in Victorian clothing each holding a tin can to their ear connected by string to each other

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4 thoughts on “One step forward… one step back?

  1. I haven’t had a land line for years … But we are now thnking of introducing a VOIP ‘land line’ … Same quality of chat but with lower cost

    • I was going to mention VOIP but in my experience the quality and reliability is far greater in a professional office set up than in an individual home. Let me know how you go!

  2. What has gone from all houses, Len, is the stool next to the phone, whence the phone call could only be made and answered. Now we roam around for a quiet place, or better reception, or just by habit. Or run around in search of.

    • I agree! There was a distinct spot from which you made calls. Though in my house with my dad and his multiple phones in the house, we had several spots. Oh and an extra extra long cord that let you take the phone into any of the rooms that didn’t have phones (was very pleased when I could take it into my bedroom as a young adult, though because it was a cord I couldn’t close the door!).

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