Thursday, June 20, 2013

The End of an Era: One Person, One Phone (Sort Of)

I loved my landline phone. I loved the reliability and sound of the hardwire service, the heft of the phone as I cradled it on my shoulder. When power went out, my princess-style phone didn't: plugged into the phone jack, it needed no electricity to do its job.

Sure, I didn't have Caller ID, but hey, I lived without it for most of my life. Plus, frankly, I don't need to know everything right away.  I kind of liked the joy and surprise of picking up the phone and hearing a friend's voice without having had a clue to who it was. I got unpleasant surprises enough times, too, but that was life — well, life before Caller ID.

Then came cell phones. Suddenly, where you were didn't matter — and, apparently, neither did call sound quality. We expected call sound quality to improve because we had crystal clear sound on our landlines, so of course our phone carriers would match what we already had. Ha.

A few years ago, when I moved out of my home and away from my landline, I was in transition. I didn't have a place to put the "home" phone number I had used since sometime in the early 1990s. I "parked" my number on a spare cell phone until my family landed in a permanent location.

When we did, I checked with the phone company for landline service. Boy, was I surprised and disappointed: the service was available (my new-to-me house is just a few months older than I am) but costly. I saw the writing on the wall. Landline wasn't going to be around for long. New technology made telephone service cheaper for the provider (which, in this case, surprisingly enough, meant cheaper for the consumer, too). If the old technology is priced high enough, people will stop purchasing it, and the company can stop providing it. Brilliant — for someone. Not me.

I like a "home" line with multiple extensions so everyone can get on the phone and chat at once.

I like hearing a phone ring in whatever room I'm in without having to carry it around with me.

I like having crisp, clean sound so the voice is clear and the background sounds can add interest and flavor.

I like having a phone to which I do not need to attend during every waking moment. Having a location-specific phone meant I could answer it when it was convenient to me, rather than the moment it rang. Sure, we say we'll do that, but when was the last time you let a call ring over to voicemail without at least hitting a button? Your attention is diverted, your energy rerouted, your mind sent elsewhere. I could come home to be reminded about my next day's dental appointment, or I could check my messages remotely at my convenience in case I was expecting a call. Don't even start me on battery life: what's the use of having a mobile phone when it needs to be plugged in most of the time so the battery remains charged?

And so, three years after moving into my new-old house, I finally faced my Juggling Phone Act.
  • "Home" phone on which I park my landline: I am the only one who answers it or checks the messages. Everyone else uses their own phone numbers and voicemail systems. 
  • Cell phone: I am the only one who answers it. I have had the number since the early 1990s, or whenever phones migrated from home/car to pockets. I use it as my "phone book" (remember those?) but little else: no text or "smart" capabilities. Usually found in my purse (or, when purse-free, my pocket).
  • Work mobile phone: I am the only one who answers it for after-hour work-related emergencies. (I don't go looking for trouble when I'm not at work. It will find me soon enough.) Has "smart" capabilities, but rarely used: have you tried to use that stuff on a 2-by-3 inch screen? (My opinion may change if they ever migrate me to a fancy smartphone; for the time being, I'm a few generations behind, and that suits me fine.)

How much time did I want to spend monitoring my devices? None, really. Phones aren't meant to be managed and monitored, just answered when someone calls. I don't want to be pinged every time someone posts something on social media or someone wants to write me a message. (For the record, I don't text.) I have enough media pounding into my head day in and day out: music, computers, television, and now telephones. Cell phones. Er, "smartphones." "Hand-held devices." Whatever.

Plus, it cost money. Granted, it cost little, but I prefer to spend my money on things I want — and that wasn't at the top of my list.

Finally, the local phone company has begun refusing to fix landline hardware and wires. That narrowed my choices: move to voice-over Internet protocol or lose a fixed line at home — which isn't a single location, but a spot on the World Wide Web. Great.

So, I cut the ties that bind and reduced my contact by a single phone. I sacrificed my second-longest number to the greater good, and I suspect whoever gets it will spend a lot of time saying, "Chris who?" (Sorry about that, buddy.) I blame cell phone address books, which list our "cell phone" number first in the contact record. (Go ahead, look. I'll wait.) (See?)

Long story short: I now tote my phone around. Badly, I might add: I left both  personal and work cells at home within 24 hours of the launch of my "One Person, One Phone (Sort Of)" experiment.

We will see how it works out. In the meantime, if I don't answer, just leave a message. (Just don't text. Some thing never change.)

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