🤙🏾 “When the telephone rang, friends and family gathered ’round,” ☎️
December 18, 2019 10:05 AM   Subscribe

How the Loss of the Landline Is Changing Family Life [The Atlantic] “My tween will never know the sound of me calling her name from another room after the phone rings. She'll never sit on our kitchen floor, refrigerator humming in the background, twisting a cord around her finger while talking to her best friend. I'll get it, He's not here right now, and It's for you are all phrases that are on their way out of the modern domestic vernacular. According to the federal government, the majority of American homes now use cellphones exclusively. “We don't even have a landline anymore,” people began to say proudly as the new millennium progressed. But this came with a quieter, secondary loss—the loss of the shared social space of the family landline.” Bonus: [YouTube][Supercut of People Answering Phones in Film]

• A paean to the vanishing landline [Gulf News]
“It seems landlines are becoming obsolete. According to some studies, landlines may disappear altogether by 2037. As more and more people choose to pay only for a cellphone, the traditional landline is predicted to suffer a natural death, and will soon go the way of the telegram and snail mail. I receive this news with a great deal of dismay. If you are part of Generation Z or born in the 21st century, you may wonder what all this brouhaha is about, and why one should lament an antiquated mode of communication. You may well argue that a landline is nothing more than a communication dinosaur. Who needs landlines when your smart phone fulfils a multitude of functions, one of them being communication? Well, all I can say is, you just don’t know what you’re missing! It is sad to think that in the future, no home will respond to the sound of a ringing phone. A landline may well have been around since the time of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. But for those of us who predate the mobile phone era, there’s nothing more heart-warming than the ring of a home phone. When we were children, there was usually a scramble to see who’d be the first to get the phone, and the thrill of relaying to the rest of the family the identity of the caller.”
• End of the line: our guide to the death of the telephone [The Guardian]
“hen did we fall out of love? Why did we stop talking? How hard is it to pick up the phone? Apparently, quite hard. Research indicates a quarter of smartphone users never use them to place a voice call. It’s not just digital natives; I can’t remember the last time I called a friend for a chat. The idea is as alien as eating a pint of mayonnaise prawns, or standing when a lady enters the room. Getting a phone call is even worse: it feels like being hijacked, or thrust on stage at the Albert Hall, without a script. With email, messaging, hangouts and social media on the menu, it’s not as if we suffer a lack of options when it comes to asking honey about their day. But are we losing something? Let’s take a look at the ways we still talk, to see if conversation really is dying, and if it even matters. The landline’s primary use is on TV, as a signifier you’re watching a period drama, ie anything set in 1995. They were so inefficient they bordered on surreal. Upon picking up, you never knew who would be on the other end: the National Lottery or Beryl from down the road or his Holiness the Pope. Weirdly, you were expected to identify yourself, though they had called you. That’s because manual dialling led to a lot of miscalls.”
• Goodbye land line, goodbye old phone number that was like a member of our family [The Globe and Mail]
“I knew it was time. But that didn’t make it easier. The man came and we made the final arrangements. Alone, I grieved. As though a dear relationship had ended or I’d been forced to part with a family heirloom. I was never good at letting go or saying goodbye, and this was no different. Gone, in a heartbeat, was the twinkly ring that signalled something important to our busy household. Gone was the angelic voice of my eight-year-old daughter, “Please leave your name and phone number. We promise we’ll call you back.” She is now 28. Gone, forever, was the phone number that was my family’s identity, our DNA, our lifeblood. Like an umbilical cord, our landline had tethered us to the outside world. It was an old friend. Together, we’d shared secrets, provided encouragement and mended broken hearts. I never imagined this relationship would end.”
posted by Fizz (188 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
Every time I read an example from this “remember when things were shitty?” genre of articles, I just mentally replace the premise with “remember the days before antibiotics where a minor cold was a death sentence?”, because it’s basically the same article.

Although, I do lament the fact that my 9 year old daughter will never satisfyingly slam down the headset onto her Bakelite phone so hard that the bells inside ring a bit. Throwing your iPhone across the room doesn’t feel the same.
posted by sideshow at 10:14 AM on December 18, 2019 [60 favorites]


I'm on the other side of this generational divide. A landline to me is an over-priced invitation to useless spam calls. The same kind of useless spam calls I get on my phone (by which I mean real phone, i.e., cell phone), with the important distinction that my phone can proactively filter out the BS calls for me. Though also, I avoid speaking on the phone unless strictly necessary, because it's impersonal and uncomfortable. I'd much rather speak face to face with a friend if something is serious, and if it's not serious, text is more convenient.
posted by chadlavi at 10:15 AM on December 18, 2019 [36 favorites]


We still have a landline. We still even have a rotary phone hooked up in the living room, because I want one phone in the house that I always know where it is and works even if the power is out, and I can hear it outside and distinguish it from the neighbours' phones. I think not having a landline with kids would be really annoying. Either I would have to get them their own phone (they are too young for that) or they would have to borrow mine or my wife's phone every time they called a friend. Having a family phone is very convenient. But we are definitely becoming part of the minority amongst our friends. I do know a few people who went out and got a landline after they had kids though.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:16 AM on December 18, 2019 [24 favorites]


There are two things I notice about people not having a home phone to dial.

The first is how much harder it is to make the social decision to call some people. For example, sometimes, I would like to talk to my niece, who is 7 and doesn't have a phone of her own.

I could call her Dad, my brother, but there's a good chance he will not be home, since he works out of home.
I could call her Mom, my sister-in-law, but she's often busy and stressed and I worry about phoning her when she's trying to run an errand or something and just annoying her. Plus, I don't think she should be the one who always has to manage the relationship between the kids and me, when I am not even a relative on her side of the family. Emotional labour, etc.
I could call her Grandma, my mom, but then if my niece isn't downstairs visiting Grandma, I just end up talking to my mom for an hour and may or may not ever get to talk to my niece at all.
If they had a landline, I could phone the landline and if someone was home, they would answer it -- possibly even my niece or if he felt like it, my 3-year-old nephew, though that would probably not be a scintillating conversation -- and I would sort of chitchat with that person for a minute or two and then get to talk to my niece if she was home.

The other thing is the loss of that moment or two of chitchat with whoever answers the phone. If I was phoning my aunt to make arrangements for something, maybe my uncle would answer the phone and we'd chitchat for a couple of minutes while I waited for my aunt to come to the phone. Now I just phone my aunt if I want to talk to my aunt, and I lose that connection with my uncle. Sure, I could phone my uncle on purpose, just to chitchat, but that's a lot less likely to happen than needing to talk to my aunt.

None of this is insurmountable with even a tiny amount of deliberate effort, but it used to happen more organically. Mostly what I do if I want to talk to someone now is text them first and ask if it's okay to call, and then we Facetime. Video calling is amazing, and cell phones are amazing, and I'm not really mourning the loss of the landline, just noting how it's slightly changing the way I make social decisions.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:17 AM on December 18, 2019 [74 favorites]


This FPP speaks to me Fizz. Thank you.
posted by Mrs Potato at 10:20 AM on December 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


And replying again to add another thought which is:

Some of that incidental social contact I was talking about in terms of chit-chatting with whoever answers the phone is replaced by using Facetime instead of making actual phone calls. Because now, instead of having a conversation with a single person when I call home, I can have a conversation with whoever happens to be in the same room, since other people will wander by and say hi, or pipe up when they overhear something they want to comment on.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:22 AM on December 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


I haven't had a landline for years. The one thing I do miss (and is hard to convey) is the intimate tone of the way a conversation over handset and copper sounded. You don't get that with cell phones.
posted by carter at 10:23 AM on December 18, 2019 [28 favorites]


Is it still the case that pollsters rely on calling landline phones? If so, that probably accounts for the increasing unreliability of polling results.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:24 AM on December 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


I have a landline phone hooked up to a Obibox and Google Voice. It's awesome for when you just want to make a call.

The modern problem is that there are a million ways to contact someone but people will arbitrarily ignore notifications from anything they don't understand, and you can't always know what they do understand. So in practice everyone in my family over 40 just calls each other.

I'm old enough to remember one phone per floor in my college dorm.
posted by selfnoise at 10:24 AM on December 18, 2019 [8 favorites]


Is it still the case that pollsters rely on calling landline phones?

I get more poll calls on my cell then my landline.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:25 AM on December 18, 2019


"...the loss of the shared social space of the family landline.”

Well, that's true of TV too. Families just sit in their living room and ... look at different screens together?
posted by Melismata at 10:26 AM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


I guess this is nostalgia for the generation before mine. I do not miss my parents telling me to get off of the Internet because they were scheduled to receive a call, and now their landline is a portal to scammer hell. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
posted by Selena777 at 10:29 AM on December 18, 2019 [19 favorites]


We still use a landline largely for my partner's business (it has a toll free number associated with it). No nostalgia here... In my opinion what killed the landline is telemarketers and scam calls. Endless calls about my "Google Business Listing", or offers to "clean my air ducts", and CRA scams have effectively killed my use of the landline. Well that and me being a misanthrope.
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:30 AM on December 18, 2019 [14 favorites]


Sorry, but cellphones are not like antibiotics. Landline phones were not shitty. Landline phones didn't follow you to movies and restaurants and bother you with work-related emails on vacation. Landline phones, if you had two of them, allowed multiple parties to be on the same call without resorting to the truly shitty speakerphone method. Even the audio quality wasn't measurably worse than non-HD cellphone calls. My parents still have a landline-like VOIP phone in their home and it is how I contact them because, if they answer, they're available! Unlike a cellphone where one of them might be, I don't know, taking a dump at a rest stop but feel compelled to answer.

They were just different. Different pros and cons.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:31 AM on December 18, 2019 [88 favorites]


There's a key difference between cell phones and landlines, and it's that with cell phones, you call a person. With landlines, you called a place.

Cell phones are better at getting you the person you want, but they lack that sense of place. When you called a landline, most of the time you knew where the person on the other end was. And in some cases you might not care as much who the other person was, just that they're in a particular place and available to take your call.

Also until very recently, cellphones sounded like absolute shit compared to landlines. The latest generation of phones and wideband codecs are starting to narrow the gap, but a landline-to-landline all-copper call was really good, in terms of audio quality. The quality we get from cellphones now is based on the standards for intelligibility used for long distance calls, which is really a bare minimum. Local calls used to be much better; they conveyed emotion and breathing better than cellphones do, and let you hear background sounds—again, there's a missing sense of place in a cellphone call that you would have gotten in a landline.

I like my cellphone as much as the next person, of course, and wouldn't leave home without it, but there is definitely a second edge to that particular sword.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:32 AM on December 18, 2019 [54 favorites]


Ah, the good old days...
posted by jim in austin at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Our home landline phone was a party-line we shared with the family that lived on the next lot over so on top of everyone in your own family listening in on your side of the call with whomever ("I was wondering if maybe you'd like to go out sometime") there was the possibility that one or more of the Shortridges were listening in on both sides of the call ("Notyou? I'm sorry, I don't think I can").

I do miss answering "Hi, how are you?" and flummoxing the caller -- how'd you know it was me? That's not a good trick anymore.
posted by notyou at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Previously on Metafilter (sort of)

It's not just nostalgia if the thing actually was of a better quality in the past. Phones are shitty at being phones.
posted by Automocar at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2019 [10 favorites]


For me it's good riddance to the landline. I hate alarms. They shoot me with adrenaline and break my (hard fought) concentration. And why am I getting an alarm? In my family, the call was for my parents or siblings or an ad way more often than it was for me. Then there were the prank calls which were an opportunity to bully and/or sexually harass people with anonymity. That bit of nastiness belongs in the past.

I fucking love having a cell phone and it makes my family a lot more intimate. When my baby girl is sick, I can get in bed with her while she zones out on Octonauts, and I do 90% of my job on my phone. When the family can't agree on something to watch, the whole family can still be together in close physical proximity to each other.

I do have fond memories of long teenage hours with a big handset pressed up to my ear, but texting makes me thousands of times more communicative with everybody in my life. It's just so much easier to have back and forth with people over text.
posted by factory123 at 10:33 AM on December 18, 2019 [15 favorites]


No more picking up the phone and mashing buttons to break your little brother's dial-up connection so you can get a chance to go Online.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 10:36 AM on December 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


There is also a radical possibility of home privacy that derives from the death of the land line. Why should anyone who can learn my phone number be allowed to disturb me for whatever reason they want when I'm at home by ringing a physical bell? Why should I be expected to either jump to attention and answer it or explain myself later (i.e., apologize) for not picking up?

No one owns my time or my private space. No one is allowed to just bust in and start ringing a bell until I give them attention. That seems good to me.
posted by chadlavi at 10:39 AM on December 18, 2019 [20 favorites]


In higher ed, there were a number of colleges that finally got in-room dorm phone lines, instead of down the hall payphones, just in time for cell phones to take over. They had expected to recoup costs from students, only to be caught short because why was student A going to call student B's room when they could call (or text) student B directly?
posted by fings at 10:40 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


I was not a very social kid. When the phone rang, it was for one of my parents -- and it was probably a telemarketer. Sometimes it was a family friend, and I got to hear half of the conversation. So there's no nostalgia there.

By the time I actually had friends (my 20s), we had email and chatrooms.

If not for the occasional call to my parents, I could honestly do without voice calls completely. Of the calls I've received on my two-week old phone, 9 were automated (5 of those spam), one from my pharmacist, and two from a contractor I hired (even though I had requested contact via email rather than phone).
posted by Foosnark at 10:43 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


There is also a radical possibility of home privacy that derives from the death of the land line.

The same radical possibility was always available by unplugging the phones.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:44 AM on December 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


People can tell when they call you and the phone's unplugged. They can judge you for it in a small-minded 20th century gossipy way.

Cell phones set the expectation that people just might not be available at the moment, and that you should just live with it. I love that very much.
posted by chadlavi at 10:47 AM on December 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


Cell phones set the expectation that people just might not be available at the moment, and that you should just live with it.

On the contrary, cell phones have set the expectation that you can be reached anytime, anywhere, because your phone is on your person. Hello, Slack and PagerDuty! And if you think 21st-century gossip is any less small-minded than that of the 20th, I have a bridge to sell you.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:50 AM on December 18, 2019 [43 favorites]


Well, that's true of TV too. Families just sit in their living room and ... look at different screens together?

This probably happens a bit too often in my house on the weekends; after a nice breakfast, we all grab a device and either sit in the living room in a "together but separate" way, with headphones deployed when needed or we scatter to different rooms where we can watch/use our devices without bothering others.

It's weird at times. But it also makes the moments where we, as a family, decide to sit down and share a screen to watch a movie or whatever else together, feel significant. We're figuring out our "Christmas movies" as a family right now - the films to watch every December, together - and its been a great time every weekend. (Our ideas of "Christmas movies" and the rest of the world's are probably very different things).
posted by nubs at 10:50 AM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


When we moved my mom from her home and into memory care, part of the process was cancelling her landline. That was the same number I grew up with. In the beginning, it was a party line. Almost 60 years! In a real way, it was like losing a part of my history.

When we moved a couple of years ago, we decided to cancel our own landline and go fully mobile. Once again, a part of my history gone.

One thing I will forever miss (and maybe grieve) about landlines, is the superior sound quality and the full-duplexing. You could have a normal conversation on a landline, instead of the “you talk. now i talk. now you talk. now i talk” dance of cellular telephony. If you grew up with a landline, other than the mobile convenience aspect, jumping to cellular is a definite step backwards in quality.
{/offmylawn}
posted by Thorzdad at 10:51 AM on December 18, 2019 [37 favorites]


We don’t have a landline but we do have a shared Kidphone that stays almost permanently plugged in in the kitchen. I have no landline nostalgia, if I’d been able to text as a child I would have done a lot more things as I hate talking over wires.
posted by q*ben at 10:52 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Landline phones were not shitty.

YMMV, obviously. I ended my long relationship with landlines when I told my ISP that all I needed was a DSL line, no landline, please, and they not only gave the landline to me for free but even threw in a DSL discount. I did not think through why they were basically paying me to keep the landline, and to this day am not super clear if any of the people, companies, or institutions that harassed me over it had a hand in paying the phone company to do this. Among the callers to my last landline, leaving messages on my last physical answering machine, were:

1) Collection agencies, lots of those, none of whom were calling about any debt that I ever incurred. One of them was regarding some debt owed by my ex's daughter, whom I had not seen for many, many years by that point; I'm quite sure that I never cosigned on anything or gave permission for her to use me as a reference.

2) Political campaigns. Some of them still apparently use the old expedient of doggedly working their way through the phone book. (Remember phone books?)

3) Polls and surveys; see above.

4) Calls from people that I actually wanted to hear from: approximately zero, anyone I cared to talk to had my cell # already.

So, yeah. If you were nostalgic for twirling the cord around your finger, you can probably buy an old one at a rummage sale somewhere and get your Atomic Age worry bead fix that way. I have a land line at work and we get spam calls daily, which reminds me of what I left behind and why I don't miss it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:53 AM on December 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


It feels funny to be living in a period of language-legacy transition. Younger people have no idea what "hang up the phone" means or where the language comes from.

I do miss the landline. I am first generation in this country and if someone special called, we would all pick up different hand sets in the house to talk together, listen, ask questions. Phone calls were not private but collective. Doesn't work as well with cell phones (speakerphone be damned). <--I recognize that this is likely only endearing due to it being a memory and not a reality.
posted by anya32 at 10:53 AM on December 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


Fighting with roommates over long distance charges was such fun.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:55 AM on December 18, 2019 [21 favorites]


Who are all these people that aren't receiving scam calls on their cell phones? That's like 95% of the calls I get.

I miss talking on the phone. The audio quality of a landline was better. Calls didn't randomly drop. The handset was more comfortable to hold for long periods. You could hear yourself through the speaker and thus modulate your voice (this is WHY PEOPLE YELL INTO THEIR CELL PHONE) I remember whispering on the phone and being confident of how loud it was, because I could hear it though the phone.

That's what people mean when they say landline phones were better than cell phones. All the rest of it is are still problems with cell phones.
posted by Automocar at 10:57 AM on December 18, 2019 [35 favorites]


My phone is on my person, which is quite feasibly in a place where there is no cell service, like the subway, or is maybe driving a car.

As for notifications: that's your problem to control. Don't turn the notifications on. Don't work at a place that expects you to be available over slack 24/7.

Also, maybe this is not the expectation or mindset of older generations, but I don't even think about other people's phones as a thing I should use to call them on. It is not a phonecall-first device. A big part of "leave me the fuck alone" that cell phones achieve is that other people my age also, blessedly, do not want to engage in that particular activity. And they share my expectation that if they do call, it WILL go to voicemail, because the person on the other side does not want to talk on the phone.
posted by chadlavi at 10:58 AM on December 18, 2019 [8 favorites]


I get a lot more scam calls on my cellphone than my landline. Probably more telemarketers on the landline, but they are pretty easy to screen out. I love my answering machine ... It keeps the people I know away from me.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:59 AM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


> The one thing I do miss (and is hard to convey) is the intimate tone of the way a conversation over handset and copper sounded. You don't get that with cell phones.

Yeah, it's quickly been forgotten how fantastically clear and expansive the sound on landlines was. It's much more conducive to having an actual conversation, because both parties can be making sounds at the same time AND hearing each other at the same time. The snip-snip-snipping of voice bandwidth permitted by cell phones (I might have the technical terms wrong there) makes any sort of discussion a constant stutter of "what?" "whoops, no you go." "what was that?" "Oh I was just gonna say..." It's okay for transactional purposes, it's maddening for chatting. And maddening when forced to overhear other people trying to chat*.

*Constantly, aimlessly, usually while walking down the street or in line in front of me at the store? No-one I know personally wants to talk on the phone yet I'm surrounded by people chatting on their phones in public. I don't think we're seeing the death of telephone calls.
posted by desuetude at 11:01 AM on December 18, 2019 [14 favorites]


In higher ed, there were a number of colleges that finally got in-room dorm phone lines, instead of down the hall payphones, just in time for cell phones to take over. They had expected to recoup costs from students, only to be caught short because why was student A going to call student B's room when they could call (or text) student B directly?

I haven't looked to see if anyone has done detailed work on this but I've done some work in institutional archives looking at communication and entertainment technologies used in 20th century U.S. dorms and residence halls. Regulating the use of phones was a lasting concern throughout the 20th century; students using them could be loud and disruptive, they were often very limited in number so students had to work out ways to share them, and billing/collecting money from students for long-distance calls was a continual hassle. The ~20 years between the breakup of AT&T and the rise of personal mobile phones was also an interesting time period because many institutions apparently made pretty good money through partnerships with long distance carriers or sales of phone cards but they were caught off guard when this funding stream abruptly dried up.

My favorite story, though, doesn't come from a residence hall. Sometime around the turn of the 20th century there was a small fire in one of the buildings at Indiana University. A few faculty members ran to the president's office so they could use his phone, one of the only ones on campus, to call the fire department. His door was locked - he had heard about the fire and went to investigate - so one faculty member boosted the other through the open window above the door, breaking into the president's office and calling the fire department. The institution installed more phones.
posted by ElKevbo at 11:03 AM on December 18, 2019 [10 favorites]


As for notifications: that's your problem to control. Don't turn the notifications on. Don't work at a place that expects you to be available over slack 24/7.

What an easy choice to make! How simple and feasible for the vast majority of people!
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:07 AM on December 18, 2019 [31 favorites]


Landlines were always terrible, I can't remember how much spam we got back in the day but it was a ton. Lots of 'free cruises'. That's why they invented caller id (in the freakin' 1990s!!!!!!!!!!!) - what a hotbed of innovation. Also they were regularly scratchy, and the phone weighed an absolute ton. Then having to buy a 2nd line for like $30 a month in 1995 because you needed the first for the internet. What a freakin' rip off too. That's why they went away.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:08 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


It is sad to think that in the future, no home will respond to the sound of a ringing phone.

In the recent near-future period drama Years and Years this kind of thing is replaced by a ubiquitous personal assistant thing such that the members of the family can all be talking to each other instantly wherever they are. Maybe we're just in an awkward middle period.
(Or fiction has always and will always need to show people talking to each other but you get my point)
In my life nothing has really replaced the old catch-up phone call except possibly Facebook and even that's going out of style. Still contacting someone directly and expecting their attention even by text feels bizarre and outlandish, even though I know it shouldn't. This is how families drift apart.
posted by bleep at 11:13 AM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Also, maybe this is not the expectation or mindset of older generations, but I don't even think about other people's phones as a thing I should use to call them on. It is not a phonecall-first device. A big part of "leave me the fuck alone" that cell phones achieve is that other people my age also, blessedly, do not want to engage in that particular activity. And they share my expectation that if they do call, it WILL go to voicemail, because the person on the other side does not want to talk on the phone.

This is the big change in my view. Unfortunately everybody thinks their version of etiquette is the right one. The hangover of feeling like you have to answer the phone and the feeling of resentment at getting ignored, (feels like passive aggression,) when a cellphone goes unanswered are becoming anachronistic as the phone is no longer location based but follows its owner everywhere and who wants to be available all the time to everybody? However I would say the manners of not answering the phone were not solved by cellphones and texting but were just complicated. Now you have the power to totally freeze out people without gambling on missing a call. Pretty much it is easier to reject people which I guess is empowering but that power used to come from saying "I cannot talk right now" or "Don't ever call me again."
posted by Pembquist at 11:16 AM on December 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


I miss the fact that regulation for landlines had teeth.
posted by Dr. Twist at 11:17 AM on December 18, 2019 [50 favorites]


Am I crazy? I have a landline at work, like a phone that looks like the phone icon on my iPhone and a cord and everything; and I frequently have phone conversations on that phone (I work in a workplace where the culture is to make a lot of voice calls, for a variety of reasons).

I've never thought wow, this quality is so much better than when I make personal calls on my cell phone, which I sometimes do because if I'm calling to make a doctor's appointment or whatever during the workday I always use my personal (cell) phone.

Maybe I'm just desensitized to call quality. I'm also way less of a music listener than almost anyone else I know and seem to be the only person in my peer group who does not have a Spotify/other streaming music membership, so maybe this all tracks.
posted by andrewesque at 11:17 AM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Obligatory:

Century 21 Calling...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:19 AM on December 18, 2019


Am I crazy? I have a landline at work, like a phone that looks like the phone icon on my iPhone and a cord and everything; and I frequently have phone conversations on that phone (I work in a workplace where the culture is to make a lot of voice calls, for a variety of reasons).

I've never thought wow, this quality is so much better than when I make personal calls on my cell phone, which I sometimes do because if I'm calling to make a doctor's appointment or whatever during the workday I always use my personal (cell) phone.


I'll bet you a thousand dollars it's a VOIP phone. Whole different animal to POTS.
posted by Automocar at 11:19 AM on December 18, 2019 [31 favorites]


I guess this is nostalgia for the generation before mine. I do not miss my parents telling me to get off of the Internet because they were scheduled to receive a call, and now their landline is a portal to scammer hell. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

*rolls eyes at the youth of today*

Believe it or not, there were whole swathes of time when there were landlines but no scam calls and no internet, so neither of these things were a problem.

I’m not even that old. Am I? Don’t answer that.
posted by penguin pie at 11:21 AM on December 18, 2019 [18 favorites]


Most of my landline memories involve lying to my dad's boss about where he was. No, thanks.

Don't call me on my landline and don't call me on my cell phone either. Just text or e-mail like a civilized person, and I'll deal with it on my time, not yours.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:24 AM on December 18, 2019 [12 favorites]


But, like, does anyone else fucking HATE the way a cellphone feels against the ear? Because that's not what the cellphone was built to do. I miss the way my landline fit the side of my face. I miss the way I could hold the phone in my hand and curve my fingers all the way around it to get a real grip on it. I miss the way I could lean into the ear piece at an intimate moment without worrying that I would accidentally press the mute button. That's what I miss about landlines: the fact that landline phones were phones.
posted by MiraK at 11:25 AM on December 18, 2019 [55 favorites]


There's no question that landline phones had better sound quality. It was much better. In digital terms, those copper lines had a bandwidth capacity of 56 kbps. When cellphones really started to take over, they were using voice codecs in the range of 9-13 kbps, and hacked off the top and bottom of the audible spectrum. In fact, AT&T engineers were really wedded to the idea that regular people would not tolerate the degradation in sound quality that mobile phones would necessitate, which is part of the reason they didn't act more quickly to develop mobile.

If you've got an iPhone and a friend with one, try making an Audio FaceTime call. The audio quality so good it is jarring.
posted by adamrice at 11:26 AM on December 18, 2019 [15 favorites]


I prefer the cell phone myself. I can check the caller I’d and decide if I want to talk at that particular moment without interrupting what I am doing currently.

Usually used to filter spammers. Also, when I’m mad at the world.
posted by drivingmenuts at 11:27 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


My mother's landline is the same one I grew up with, and the number will be engraved on my brain until I die. These days, it's literally the only number I would be able to come up with if arrested and given a phone call -- one clever trick cops have learned is that they don't have to give you any way to find the number you need.
posted by tavella at 11:31 AM on December 18, 2019 [10 favorites]


I think people’s nostalgia for landlines depends on whether the bulk of their experience with them came before or after, say, 1985. In general the 90s were the shitty death throes of the landline. Its charms were undermined by answering machines and the proliferation of telemarketers. But oh, in its heyday, the romance of the phone! The panicked rummaging for coins as your pay phone call was running out! The suspense of placing a collect call! The coiled cord leading around the corner and under the bathroom door where your brother was talking to his first girlfriend. The frustration of the busy signal when you knew the person had deliberately left the phone off the hook. Slamming the phone down in a tearful fury. Sitting hour after hour next to it on your bed, willing your crush to call. The family emergency leading to ruinous long-distance charges. The drama of the incidental conversation with whoever answered the phone at the home you were calling. All my awkward conversations with my boyfriend’s mom. All my little interrogations by aunts who were calling for my mom. Shared laughter with girlfriends! Silently picking up the extension with one finger on the button and then slowly releasing it to eavesdrop on a sibling’s conversation. Answering the phone and yelling for whoever the call was for. Being taught as a child how to politely call for a friend: “Hello, this is HotToddy. May I please speak to Anna?” Secretaries with acrylic nails dialing the rotary phone with the eraser end of a pencil. Fiddling with the cord while you talked. Flipping the handset upside down while still holding it to your ear and rolling your eyes, to convey how boring or annoying the other person was being. And, yes, both people being able to talk at the same time and really hear what the other was saying. The sound quality was incredible.
posted by HotToddy at 11:31 AM on December 18, 2019 [54 favorites]


If you've got an iPhone and a friend with one, try making an Audio FaceTime call. The audio quality so good it is jarring.

Do none of you all live in an area (or have a new enough mobile phone) to get HD voice, or whatever it's called? The quality of that is jarring.

The suspense of placing a collect call! I recall collect calls. I had an extra credit card I had to carry in my wallet to call halfway across the state for over $1 a minute. Oh yeah, I called my mom from college once, and the call cost more than one of my classes (to be fair, it was a 1 hour course, not 3 hours).
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:34 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Up until I was in my mid-teens, I think it was, all we had a rotary phone screwed to the kitchen wall and we shared a party line with the house across the street. If you wanted to call someone, you had to take the handset off the hook and give a quick listen to see if the neighbors were talking. If there was a dial tone, you dialed your friend and talked until you heard the neighbors impatiently trying to make a call.

We have a landline today but I use it mainly to say "No, thanks. We aren't interested."

I did recently get my first cell phone, but I barely use it except to run Strava (to prove to the eco-accountants at work that I commute by bicycle) and to agree with my wife ("Did you call me? Ok... Ok... Yes... Ok... Could you say that again? Ok... Ok, bye."). And I have no idea how you people type with your thumbs on those things. I plug it into my computer and use a full-sized clickety-click keyboard when I need to use Signal or WhatsApp. While I'm driving, of course. Wearing a VR headset. And shaving.

No, email's my thing. I like asynchronous communication, a real keyboard, a real screen.
posted by pracowity at 11:38 AM on December 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


You guys have actual tricorders now, and you're in here cryin' about how you miss changing the typewriter ribbon. As an introvert in his 50s who doesn't want to talk to you on either kind of phone, I feel I should warn you that you sound like a buncha old people.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 11:39 AM on December 18, 2019 [50 favorites]


A phrase you would never ask someone when you called them on a landline: Where are you?
posted by Splunge at 11:43 AM on December 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


If you've got an iPhone and a friend with one, try making an Audio FaceTime call. The audio quality so good it is jarring.

I had to stop doing this because it allowed my mom to hear my exasperated sighs.
posted by gngstrMNKY at 11:46 AM on December 18, 2019 [10 favorites]


You guys have actual tricorders now, and you're in here cryin' about how you miss changing the typewriter ribbon.

Enh, I haven't bothered to get a smartphone, I still rock an ancient Nokia which I usually don't bother to turn on when I remember to carry it with me. I have a landline at work, so I don't need it during the day. I have a landline at home, so I don't need it there. If someone wants to get hold of me they can call my landline. If I'm not home, my answering machine can take their message. I really don't get why people prefer cellphones. Goddamn thing follows you everywhere and people can pester you all the time.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:49 AM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Don't get me wrong, there are lots of great things about cellphones that make them inarguably and vastly superior to landlines as a medium of communication. Text! Email! Video chat! Maps! Traffic! News! Games! They are true technical wonders and revolutionary in the way they have changed the way we communicate. The world is a different and far more connected place because of them.

Specifically in terms of voice communications, though, they are inferior to landlines. If you don't like phone calls - which it seems lots of people don't - then that is clearly not a problem for you. I, for one, like talking to people on the phone because it feels more intimate than texting or email. I am giving someone my full attention and me theirs. The shift away from that is one that I can't get with.

That is harder to do with cellphones because of that @^#%$@#@ delay which causes all sorts of stuttering and awkward pauses and talkovers. HD calls are really amazing in terms of quality but still suffer from that delay.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:50 AM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


The thing I really like about my cell phone? I can turn it off. My time is my time.

The expectation with a landline was that if it rang, you answered. When it rang you were expected to drop everything and run to answer it. Or, if you were busy, you had to sit there and let it ring repeatedly until the machine picked up.

We cut off our landline ca. 2002 or so? I've never missed it.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:50 AM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


(We did have a landline in our current house when we moved in 8 years ago, which made me happy, because it was wired with cat5e rather than 4 strand phone line. I disconnected it from the jack at both ends and tied it into my home network, which saved me from running one more cable. Yay.)
posted by caution live frogs at 11:52 AM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


One thing I really like about having a landline in the house is that we have 7 phones hooked up to it. I don't have to carry it around or try to find the damn thing like a cellphone. If the phone rings, I pick up whatever handset that is nearby and answer it.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:57 AM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


I don't understand that Globe and Mail article. If she wanted to keep the landline number she could port it to her cell phone and use it instead of the number that feels alien to her. If she doesn't mind paying a bit extra and has a phone which supports 2 SIM cards she could even use both numbers on the one phone.

We had a landline until just a couple of years ago. My wife and I never picked it up because all the calls were either for my mother or telemarketers. When we all moved out of that house I got my mom a cell phone and ported the landline number to that.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:01 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


my VOIP phone is just a traditional phone hooked into a little box connected to my modem. sometimes i need to turn my devices off for a few days to clear my head, and this way i can still make calls without turning on the thing that keeps stealing my attention and making me feel bad. also it's only $30 a year. these are probably getting more popular now that internet providers are selling them, but maybe not.
posted by mammal at 12:05 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


One thing I don't miss was the messy tangled loooong phone cord. Even though I still had a landline in the 90's, having a cordless phone was wonderful - not just for the cordless factor, but because they had a built-in message-slash-live-monitoring feature. I could let the machine take the call, listen to whoever the caller was starting to leave a message, and elect whether to answer (this was before I had a phone with Caller ID, which effectively replaced it). I don't miss the landline and am happy with the improved convenience of a cellphone - and then even more so a smartphone.

One caveat, however - my personal device isn't associated with or in any way connected to the company I work for. If they want me to be available by cell they can bloody well buy me a work phone. Those of you who don't have that luxury, you have my sincere sympathy.
posted by Greg_Ace at 12:05 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Before even reading the articles or other comments - hell yeah I still have a landline (and an actual telephone with the ringer turned off) and an answering machine. Because some organizations insist that they have a phone number on record for you and fuck you you can talk to my answering machine while I'm not home good christ I don't want you EVER knowing my cell phone number.

Ok I'll go back and read stuff now.
posted by soundguy99 at 12:06 PM on December 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


Yeah, I have a lot of super exciting nostalgic memories for having to effectively inform my high-school era crush (and then girlfriend's) parents every time I wanted to speak to her. That was a blast. And my parents or sibling accidentally interrupting or overhearing me talking to her. That was super great and 16-year-old me loved every minute of it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:06 PM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Convenience > Quality
posted by dbiedny at 12:09 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


i hate landlines. hate hate hate hate. i hate small talk. i hate the fact that my family knows i have hearing issues but still chooses to contact me via phone. hate hate HATE.

landlines were a nightmare in my teen years with a mother who had stasi-like levels of vigilance. nothing was ever private, she was always listening in. HATE.

i have one bundled in with my internet & cable now and it's hilarious. i don't even know the number offhand. i have never once in 3.5 years plugged in a phone. i use the number as the contact info for various shitty services i can't yet get rid of and it fills me with bliss every time i randomly catch the phone line indicator blinking on the cable box, knowing that some worthless asshole phone scammer who paid good money for my nonworking number is now wasting their scamming time.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:12 PM on December 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


Getting a phone call is even worse: it feels like being hijacked, or thrust on stage at the Albert Hall, without a script.

The one thing I do miss (and is hard to convey) is the intimate tone of the way a conversation over handset and copper sounded. You don't get that with cell phones.

The audio quality of landlines was so good that it was almost as good as talking with someone in person. Most cell phone connections are so bad it feels like you are trading voicemails in real time. I think that's why it seems so awkward. You aren't hearing the other person's reaction as you talk so every conversation has that feeling of being put on the spot, forced to make an impromptu speech into an answering machine without the feeling of connection when you are talking to someone in person.

I remember when the internet was newer, someone used the analogy to explain "cyberspace" as "the place you're at when you talk to someone on the phone." Because it really felt like you were somehow together with the person you were talking to in a kind of third-space. I don't think the audio quality of cell phones is good enough for people to feel that togetherness when they talk to someone anymore.
posted by straight at 12:12 PM on December 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


In our everyone-has-cell-phones era, making a phone call means gambling on whether the person I'm calling is driving a car at the time. There are some people I know well enough and trust that they wouldn't pick up while driving, but... meh.
posted by asperity at 12:15 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


@ bonobothegreat
Fighting with roommates over long distance charges was such fun.


Add in international and couple of roommates sharing the same friend that they talked to; this is my life as a phone-bill-adjuster (because the phone was in my name) for 4 freaking years in grad school. International was easy, just really expensive (if I recall it was 2.25 for the 1st minute and 1.15 for each additional minute to call India). But settling the 3-4 page list of numbers of who called who was miserable. Writing down numbers on the wall, fights about not being informed when someone got a 'important' call .... Things that are really time specific.

Speaking of which, a lot of Seinfeld show premises would not be possible today. Especially George sneaking in to erase Answering Machine messages.
posted by indianbadger1 at 12:15 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's quickly been forgotten how fantastically clear and expansive the sound on landlines was.
Hmm. Either we have different memories (and I'm sure mine is terribly unreliable), or we had very different phone providers. A land line was always a tinny, irritating ghost of a voice. It made SSB ham radio sound rich and natural. I joined the cell-phone movement late - around 2007 or 2008 - but I was immediately impressed by how much better my cheap cellphone sounded compared to any phone I'd ever used. The lower frequency tones were actually there. There were some compression artifacts, but they were far less irritating than the brute-force, narrow-band, deeply unnatural sound of a copper landline. A voice on my cell phone today sounds like a recognizable person, rather than "a recognizable person talking on the phone." A voice on a third party cellphone voice ap sounds like something you'd need to hire a recording studio with an ISDN line to achieve twenty years ago.
posted by eotvos at 12:19 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


People, people, please calm down! There's no need to fight like this. Landlines and cell phones are both terrible!
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:26 PM on December 18, 2019 [28 favorites]


Count me as another GenXer who still has a copper-wired landline phone in the house. It doesn't go out when the power goes out (a real concern; in a bad storm out power could be out for a few days), and my child, when younger, could simply pick it up and dial in case of an emergency - no turning it on, no password, no barriers. I pay for my mother, who lives an hour away in a more rural community than I do (her power was out for 11 days during the ice storm a few years ago) to have the same. We get maybe 2 - 3 spam calls a week (certainly fewer than my cell phone). I pay $20 for the security of being able to use it no matter what the weather.

I get that's not a consideration everywhere, but it for sure is here.
posted by anastasiav at 12:28 PM on December 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


This is kind of a tangent, but one thing I miss *very* much is the public pay phone. If you were broke down in the middle of nowhere, you could still walk and find a pay phone and call for help. You could call collect if you didn't have change. Now? If you leave your phone at home, your options are limited. Try getting a stranger to hand over their expensive device to you some time, especially if you're soaking wet from walking in the rain for four miles. Better yet, buy the cheapest phone you can find at a department store, making the mental calculation of what you'll have to forgo until the next paycheck, then go through the process of activating the goddamn thing, just so you can get a ride home.

Cell phones are the perfect accessory for this angry, selfish, callous era.
posted by KHAAAN! at 12:33 PM on December 18, 2019 [13 favorites]


I remember when the internet was newer, someone used the analogy to explain "cyberspace" as "the place you're at when you talk to someone on the phone." Because it really felt like you were somehow together with the person you were talking to in a kind of third-space.

From the introduction to Bruce Sterling's 1992 book "The Hacker Crackdown":
A science fiction writer coined the useful term “cyberspace” in 1982. But the territory in question, the electronic frontier, is about a hundred and thirty years old. Cyberspace is the “place” where a telephone conversation appears to occur. Not inside your actual phone, the plastic device on your desk. Not inside the other person’s phone, in some other city. The place between the phones. The indefinite place out there, where the two of you, two human beings, actually meet and communicate.
posted by neckro23 at 12:35 PM on December 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


Y'all must all live in great cellphone reception areas. The rich people with views didn't want a cell tower to be put up nearish my plebe house, so, let me look...at this moment, with an expensive cell-repeater strapped to the roof of the house, pointing at the nearest tower (no direct line-of-sight, a small hill is in the way), I have one bar of 1X on my phone. If you have an iPhone you cannot get reception here, as their providers don't have a tower anywhere nearby. And while I live semi-remotely, the stress is on the "semi". There are probably 100,000 people living in 10 mile circle centered on my house.

So if I get a cell call, it will drop almost without question, especially if I have the audacity to move my head while on it.

And am I the only one who gets more stressed about texts than calls?
posted by maxwelton at 12:35 PM on December 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


The same radical possibility was always available by unplugging the phones.

You couldn't unplug them until the '80s; they were hard-wired into the wall. And the bell could be turned down but not off. And if you left the receiver off the cradle, after about five minutes it would start screaming this BANT-BANT tone to make you put the handset back.
posted by octothorpe at 12:35 PM on December 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


And am I the only one who gets more stressed about texts than calls?

I don't get stressed about texts, exactly, but I do find them annoying when I get sucked into a back-and-forth, as it's not interesting enough to just... text... and it's just distracting enough that I can't pay attention to what I'm reading/watching/playing.
posted by Automocar at 12:37 PM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


Until February our primary phone was a landline, because rural Vermont has shitty cell phone coverage. For the past few years 90%+ of the calls were spam. We all grew to hate the damned thing. We used cell phone for offline purposes: cameras, games, podcasts. (We'd download stuff to them when we traveled to placed w/cell coverage. I called my phone the Road Phone.)

(Fun bit: I was teaching a class last fall at an American university, and needed dual factor authentication to get to some online resources. So a campus app would ring my landline. IT folks thought this was hilarious.)

We moved to the DC area and jumped to cell phones full time. Didn't bother to set up a land line. Never looked back.
posted by doctornemo at 12:38 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Who else remembers those little 3-minute hourglasses? They existed because the phone company started charging a premium on calls longer than 3 minutes.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:44 PM on December 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


Try getting a stranger to hand over their expensive device to you some time

I've been asked a handful of times and gave my phone without hesitation. Is this something else that I'm too trusting about?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:45 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


She'll never sit on our kitchen floor, refrigerator humming in the background, twisting a cord around her finger while talking to her best friend.

Man, that's a powerful sense memory. I talked to my best friend in middle and high school for a half hour to an hour every night (and she lived 2 houses away). When I wanted more privacy, I stretched the cord out the back door and sat on the porch; I wasn't supposed to do this because the screen door chafed the cord and ripped the rubber coating off, but I did it anyway. Sitting on our wooden porch, peeling paint, breath showing in the cold as we talked through the day's events at school and other matters great and large.

Another thing, it helped with bonding among friends and family. When I raced to the phone and answered, it might turn out to be for my mom, but if it was my grandma or a familiar family friend, I might chat with them for a few seconds while taking the phone receiver to wherever my mom was.

Historical change means both gains and losses. It's no smarter to say "nothing was better in the past" than it is to say "everything was better in the past." But having a landline was probably a lot better. Certainly today when I take a landline-to-landline call, I'm astounded at the clear, warm sound of the connection. It's a shame I've gotten all too used to crappy phone audio.
posted by Miko at 12:46 PM on December 18, 2019 [12 favorites]


My sisters would talk on the back porch for privacy with the backdoor almost closed on the receiver cord until my father would invariably yell at them for tying up the phone or letting the heat out or both.
posted by octothorpe at 12:48 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Try getting a stranger to hand over their expensive device to you some time

I've been asked a handful of times and gave my phone without hesitation. Is this something else that I'm too trusting about?


Yes.
posted by grumpybear69 at 12:50 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


She'll never sit on our kitchen floor, refrigerator humming in the background, twisting a cord around her finger while talking to her best friend.

My kid has that now, sorta (with the twisting but less kitchen floor) but he's wearing a headset and talking to friends on Discord and/or Skype.
posted by anastasiav at 12:53 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


I never got a hand delivered telegram.

My grandchildren may never swipe left, who would with a neural implant control?

I did use a classic Scythe once, surprisingly efficient and in the right circumstance would dig one up (very small field, artisan grain). Tech seems to be transitory, perhaps there'll be mid-50's recreation communities with party lines on one of the orbiting archologies.
posted by sammyo at 12:55 PM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


You can silence a cell phone, or put it on vibrate. You couldn’t do that with a landline. If you had caller ID, you didn’t have to answer a call that you knew you didn’t want, but you couldn’t keep the phone from ringing. Even in the last days of our landline, when we had a robocall blocker, the phone still rang once when we got a robocall. And landline rings were loud, because they were intended to be audible from another room.
posted by Anne Neville at 1:02 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


FWIW, many landline phones these days can be silenced, either generally by turning the ringer off or down or call-specifically by hitting a button to just silence a particular call. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them allow you to schedule that ringer-off time just like the DND on your phone.

Some of the features of cell phones aren't really related to them being wireless vs wired, more to the level of technological development that went into them and whether they had been designed with the computing power and user interface necessary to do a given thing.

You can still buy cheap phones that are much like the princess phones of old that you have to unplug if you don't want them to ring (though, actually, even most of those have a ringer shut-off on the bottom) but many features of cell phones have crept over to landline phones, at least at the fancier end.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:09 PM on December 18, 2019


You can silence a cell phone, or put it on vibrate. You couldn’t do that with a landline. If you had caller ID, you didn’t have to answer a call that you knew you didn’t want, but you couldn’t keep the phone from ringing.

Heh.

I owned a couple of different phones over my young adult landline-only years that thankfully coincided with the availability of phones with a switch on the bottom to disable the ringer. This became a godsend when I moved to a new city and received a number that had evidently been a fax number in a former life -- it would get somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 to 30 fax calls a day. Remember fax spam? I do!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:11 PM on December 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


Also, maybe this is not the expectation or mindset of older generations, but I don't even think about other people's phones as a thing I should use to call them on. It is not a phonecall-first device. A big part of "leave me the fuck alone" that cell phones achieve is that other people my age also, blessedly, do not want to engage in that particular activity.

That may be true for voice, but I've noticed that my younger colleagues are constantly, always on FaceTime or some other video chat. When I'm out in public, walking, waiting for the train, so many people staring intently at someone else's forehead.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:16 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think not having a landline with kids would be really annoying. Either I would have to get them their own phone (they are too young for that) or they would have to borrow mine or my wife's phone every time they called a friend. Having a family phone is very convenient. But we are definitely becoming part of the minority amongst our friends. I do know a few people who went out and got a landline after they had kids though.

I think about this often and wonder if I should install a landline when my daughter starts kindergarten in the fall. It seems silly to have to arrange her social life for her ("I'll call little Joey's mom and see when is a good time for the two of you to play together"), but do kids even call each other anymore? Is the expected norm that the parents *do* arrange things for them until they're old enough to have their own cellphones? Do they chat online, instead, once they've learned how to write?
posted by asnider at 1:24 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


When we took our daughter to her first eye appointment, they showed pictures instead of letters: cow, tree, etc. The last one was an old Bell style home phone. MiniBeeDo just looked at us and shrugged, and the eye doctor was like, I don't know why that's in there, none of the kids know it.

It's like the floppy disk save button.
posted by BeeDo at 1:26 PM on December 18, 2019 [12 favorites]


You can silence a cell phone, or put it on vibrate. You couldn’t do that with a landline.

Sure, you can.
All of the cordless phones in our bedrooms are muted. Only the base station in the kitchen rings.

My circa-1975 ""BELL SYSTEM PROPERTY - NOT FOR SALE" telephone had a physical switch that would disconnect the ringer.
Always pre-answering machine when you forgot to turn it on and got no calls for a couple of days.
posted by madajb at 1:30 PM on December 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


Also, yeah, long phone calls on cell phones such because they have terrible ergonomics for that purpose. My wife has semi-regular phone calls with her parents, because they live on the other end of the country and we don't see them in person often, and she *always* puts the phone on speaker for these calls because it's simply too uncomfortable to actually hold a modern cellphone to your ear for a conversation that lasts more than a minute or two.
posted by asnider at 1:30 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


do kids even call each other anymore?

In our case we encouraged the kids to call their friends. As a result their friends started calling them and each other. Sometimes they put the phone on speakerphone while they play video games or whatever.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:31 PM on December 18, 2019


You can call somebody on their cell and it’s reasonable to expect that it won’t wake their parents, or the baby, or interrupt something that somebody else in the house is doing. I remember not being able to have my friends call me after 9pm, so the phone wouldn’t disturb my parents. And texting is great when you don’t want to wake a baby.

You don’t have to get off your cell phone so somebody else can make a call, at least not normally. You had to do that on landlines.
posted by Anne Neville at 1:36 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Millennials and older Gen-Z kids are famously anti-talking on the phone, but I can vouch that a 13-year-old in my household is often FaceTiming with a friend late into the evening. It's something I would want to stop, but I feel so fondly about my own teenage late-night phone chats back in the '90s, and I don't want to rob them of the (loosely similar) experience.

This kid is also really not into texting and prefers to do everything over voice--I think growing up among iPhones has made their generation super comfortable with hands-free voice commands, and less comfortable communicating over text, which they equate with "doing homework," now that most of their homework is done on devices.
posted by witchen at 1:42 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Kirth Gerson: Is it still the case that pollsters rely on calling landline phones? If so, that probably accounts for the increasing unreliability of polling results.

2012: The Death of Landline Election Polling? -- After many pollsters got the results wrong for the 2012 presidential election, IowaWatch.org looks at what they can do to improve their methods.
Scott Rasmussen, founder and president of Rasmussen Reports, said his polling firm already is compensating for new technology.

"The election we just had is the last election of the telephone polling era," he said.
That said, we got a TON of polling on our (virtual) landline for the 2016 election.

Kadin2048: There's a key difference between cell phones and landlines, and it's that with cell phones, you call a person. With landlines, you called a place.

And our place was in New Mexico. I've never gotten the kind of polling with landlines in California.


The_Vegetables: Landlines were always terrible, I can't remember how much spam we got back in the day but it was a ton. Lots of 'free cruises'. That's why they invented caller id (in the freakin' 1990s!!!!!!!!!!!) - what a hotbed of innovation. Also they were regularly scratchy, and the phone weighed an absolute ton. Then having to buy a 2nd line for like $30 a month in 1995 because you needed the first for the internet. What a freakin' rip off too. That's why they went away.

I don't recall getting much spam in the 1990s, but we got a fair bit in the 2010s in New Mexico, to the point that I bought a VOIP box when I dropped the service from my cable provider, but haven't set it up and I don't really miss it. I miss having a local phone number to list on forms and applications, but I'm rolling with it.

Also, my work did away with landlines, due in part to the costs applied to us to continue to use landlines. Maintaining hardwired infrastructure is much more expensive than popping up a new cell tower. Getting a second line is now more expensive than $30 a month (though $30 in 1995 with inflation is about $50 in 2019, so maybe it's not too far off from getting a second cellphone line in a packaged deal).


MiraK: But, like, does anyone else fucking HATE the way a cellphone feels against the ear?

You can be like me and Lenny Kravitz and plug in an old style receiver into your cellphone (photo of Kravitz, not me -- I have one and like it, but I've since gotten used to carrying around earbuds with a microphone, which serves the same purpose but is much less bulky).


mammal: my VOIP phone is just a traditional phone hooked into a little box connected to my modem.

* My cable company provided this, but with an expensive two-in-one box, where the modem included a VOIP unit/ feature. They tried to keep us renting our modem by noting how expensive it would be to buy a modem with phone capacity. So we dropped the phone line, because why pay more for VOIP?
posted by filthy light thief at 1:48 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


By gum I believe I have cracked the mystery of why Millennials Killed Talking On The Phone. The phone turned into a cold glass slab! Any decent-length conversation necessitates a trip to the chiropractor!
posted by MiraK at 1:56 PM on December 18, 2019 [9 favorites]


I would buy that theory. I don't mind talking on the landline, but talking on a cellphone for more than a minute or two fills me with rage. Crap ergonomics and call quality.
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:58 PM on December 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


I'm curious how parents with younger (say elementary age) kids handle communications without a home phone.

What do you put down on the form at the doctor?
We put down the home phone number, so if there is a reminder or a change, it's sitting on the answering machine waiting for both of us and the calendar is right there to note the changes.
If we put down one parent's cell number, inevitably it's a call taken at work and inevitably, the change won't make it to the other parent or the calendar.

Same with school, camps, teams, isn't having one central contact number much more convenient? I mean, I guess I wouldn't mind it if the "Hey, do you want to sell raffle tickets" calls all went to my spouse, but still.


How do you handle calls for your kids?
We have a home phone, but a lot of the neighborhood houses don't.
So when our kids want to play with those kids, it turns into a game of "Which parent is home?".
If you send a text to the dad, it's guaranteed that the mom is the one at home.
You can send a text to both, but now you're bothering someone at work because your kid doesn't want to put shoes on.

And honestly, come on, the kids are almost in middle school, why am I involved in setting up play dates at all?
I feel like i'm back in middle school sometimes myself, "Can you ask Madison if she want to come over and play Lego with Brice"?

Maybe I just lead an old-fashioned life, but I feel like a central point of contact and communication is worth the $20 or so bucks a month my landline costs me.
posted by madajb at 2:00 PM on December 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


It's like the floppy disk save button.

As a result of either us or the previous owners of our warehouse being lackadaisical about throwing things out, somehow I wound up with a 5 1/4" floppy on my desk.

I keep it so I can wave it around when I'm feeling particularly "get off my lawn" towards younger co-workers.
posted by soundguy99 at 2:08 PM on December 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


do kids even call each other anymore?

My 8-year-old will have hour-long FaceTime calls with her friend, often while the two play online games together.

The 8-year-old and 10-year-old will do the same in order to chat with each other as they play Stardew Valley together, since the computers are on different floors of our house.
posted by nickmark at 2:13 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


The only way I can tolerate talking on a cell for any length of time is to lie in bed, on my side, with the phone between me and the pillow.
posted by joannemerriam at 2:17 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Technology dinosaurs are everywhere, and I have no gripe with whatever phone people want to use, they all make calls, so whatever.

However, I recently hooked up my old dot matrix printer to my computer, which amazingly still works with a modern machine and Windows 10. The reason for that was because my son has a 7th-grade teacher that insists everyone hands in hard-copy printed documents. He has submitted work electronically to his teachers on Google Classroom since grade one, so I don't know what is up with this teacher. The ink in our ink jet printer dried out over a year ago as we never use the damn thing I didn't want to drop over $100 on ink, so dot-matrix it is. The ribbon still had ink and I still had a box of paper for the thing.

I told my son to hand in the print-outs to his dinosaur teacher without removing the tractor-feed strips or separating the pages.
posted by fimbulvetr at 2:18 PM on December 18, 2019 [31 favorites]


My 8-year-old will have hour-long FaceTime calls with her friend

Does your 8-year-old have her own phone? I would prefer not to get my kid a phone at that age, but that's just me.
posted by asnider at 2:19 PM on December 18, 2019


it's simply too uncomfortable to actually hold a modern cellphone to your ear for a conversation that lasts more than a minute or two.

if i am forced by a cold and uncaring world to actually talk on the phone ever i just plug in my enormous gaming headset bc otherwise my stupid cheekbones hang up the call when they touch the screen
posted by poffin boffin at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


I work at a place that still takes orders via land-line and I cannot fucking wait for it to die. I was trying to do about five different things and still trying to answer the phone and there's a call waiting. It's awful.

But our regulars expect a certain thing so we suck it up. We'll put it together as best we can based on what you told us.

My chipper voice is really good.
posted by East14thTaco at 2:40 PM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


I guess siblings will just have to come up with some other way to demonstrate passive aggression besides “forgetting” to hang up the downstairs extension after the call recipient has picked up the upstairs phone and is screaming apoplectically for someone to hang it up.
posted by corey flood at 2:41 PM on December 18, 2019 [6 favorites]


If you get a call on your cell about some sort of thing that needs to go on the family calendar, why wouldn’t you put it on a shared Google calendar, or something like that? We would never be able to keep track of all the kid related stuff without our Google calendar.
posted by Anne Neville at 2:41 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I actually just a couple of weeks ago bought a book on "the social history of the telephone to 1940" to research this subject.

But I think it's amazing how in the course of their history, a phone has gone from a resource that requires extensive human cooperation to use (like, calls involving multiple operators at switchboards talking to each other and to the people trying to connect) to one that requires less and less to finally an extremely personal, purely automated instrument.

We see cars as a symbol of Western individuality and privacy but I think many, many people would sooner hand their keys to a friend for a couple of hours than their smartphone.
posted by smelendez at 2:42 PM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


I was born in '58, all I can say to you landline enthusiasts is, man it must suck getting old.
posted by evilDoug at 2:46 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Mobile-only since 2002 here. And with the advent of the spammer blocking built into iOS now, phone numbers that aren't already in my contacts won't make my phone ring. I don't even get an alert that someone IS calling. I only get an alert that someone called, and a second alert if they left a message. I love, love, love not having a landline.
posted by emelenjr at 2:46 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Did you know you can turn the ringer off and let voice mail pick up with a landline nowadays? You don't have to answer the phone at all if you don't want to.
posted by gusottertrout at 3:00 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


The thing that I like the most about cell phones isn't even really a thing about cell phones - it's a cultural shift that's come with their rise to prominence: the idea that just calling someone with no warning is a rude thing to do. I use my phone to talk on the phone, but it's almost always for a call that the other party and I have agreed to over text or email. Even my wife and I will mostly text "got a second to talk?" before calling. Only my parents and scammers just call me and expect me to talk to them on demand.
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:13 PM on December 18, 2019 [11 favorites]


Oh yeah! we came late to the cord-cutting party, but they essentially forced us to do it!

Could've held on for a while cause I'm just an old-fashioned curmudgeon, but it was not meant to be... expensive rates, throttling on the modem part of the plan, and relentless waves of telemarketers, phone-scams, & those shitty automated collection deadbeat shame calls (wrong numbers all (I don't know who the f0rk you are Leslie, but pay your goddam bills)). The ratio of directed calls to nuisance calls in our house eventually dropped to approx 10%.

It was a barrage of bullshite, and our old provider was shitty about it, and I'm happy to not give them money anymore. Technology gave us no choice but to merge with the present age. (Still get some fone-spam on the cell, but way much less, & it's easy to block).
posted by ovvl at 3:30 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Landline nostalgia is pretty alien to me, and I'm certainly old enough to remember them. I get the thing about actually talking on the phone , though. I'm one of those people who always kind of hated doing it and never does it now but it's still kind of weird that nobody does, even with the people closest to them.

Yeah, it's quickly been forgotten how fantastically clear and expansive the sound on landlines was.

I mean - they were always bandpassed, no? 330-3300Hz? Cellphones are more susceptible to interference and degradation, but I never thought of any kind of phone as sounding expansive.
posted by atoxyl at 3:46 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


I have a landline because a) I'm old; b) I have DSL that needs it; c)I have a number that cannot¹ be ported to VOIP or cell; d)I have an alarm system hanging off it. It's all too much hassle to fix all of these to get rid of it. I do delight in having the super-cheapest CRTC-mandated minimum service, but I also hate that I don't have caller ID. 99% of incoming calls are spam. I still get the roughly daily spam call from a fax machine that somehow fell off its connection over a decade ago.

Even older nerd friends are hooking up handsets and networking them as their own private VOIPs. One was amazed that his grand-daughter took a call and promptly started wandering about, pulling the phone off the wall. A phone call isn't attached to place now; no little phone nooks and weird mid-century furniture for taking calls.

Other nerd friends have started to do dial-up BBSing over VOIP. It's tremendously slow and inefficient (tops out at about 300 baud) but they're mostly running PETs so it won't be much faster. It beats waiting around to die, but only just.

I refurbed an old phone a couple of years back, and its ring is lovely: Western Electric “Princess”. It doesn't quite have the right cadence: how come folks in the US didn't get bored and wander away in the interminable 6 seconds between rings?

¹: a few Bell Canada numbers are part of an agreement (more like a tort, from where I'm sitting) that in exchange for Bell Canada being forced to allow resellers on their DSL and other network services, these numbers absolutely cannot be shifted to another supplier. I didn't choose this, and both Bell and any local resellers have both got quite escalatey and "please don't sue, it's unCanadian" when I ask why. Please don't suggest I can port the number unless you're willing to fund my legal fees.
posted by scruss at 3:54 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


What I miss about landlines is not so much sound quality but low latency. Talking on the mobile is incredibly stressful for me because everyone is constantly stepping on each other's comment.

Well I - I think.
No, you go.
I think - well I--
Sorry.
Long pause
Well I - I think
posted by condour75 at 4:08 PM on December 18, 2019 [14 favorites]


I really don’t miss landlines in hotels when traveling for business. Trying to find the phone socket (which was invariably under the bed or behind some piece of furniture) so I could plug in my modem. Finding that they’d fitted some non-standard plug and socket. In Finland, finding that their phone system didn’t work with Hayes modems. I probably still have my phone hardware kit somewhere... screwdrivers, breakout box, various connectors... and the price gouging by the hotel so they could make money from the calls.

No sir, I don’t miss those days at all.

Somewhere I worked a *very* long time ago had a proper analog switchboard with operator, but she went home at 5pm, so the only phone that was definitely connected to the outside world was the emergency one in the lift. It was not unusual, later in the day, to ride the lift in the company of someone making a call.

And the operators never got the hang of modems. Jacking into a circuit to see if anyone is still talking tends to play havoc with the (amazingly slow, 1200 baud) conversation between computers...
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 4:58 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm curious: if you have a conventional job, what would happen if you refused to give your boss your cell phone number? I guess you wouldn't've gotten the job in the first place. A friend got business cards at her new job recently and they have her personal cell phone number on them, which felt so inappropriate to me but she felt was normal.

(I haven't worked in a normal job since 2002; I refused to give them my cell number, but it was long enough ago that my boss was surprised but didn't press the matter, and I still had a landline.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:14 PM on December 18, 2019


I have a landline. Sounds better, can use my cell phone while on it easily (to look things up / check calendar when making appointments / etc), works 100% of the time with no coverage issues.

I definitely do not miss the really old days of sharing a phone line with an entire household, although by my teen years I had my own landline (because I was always using it for my modem, and my parents got sick of the actual phone line being used all the time). So my "shared phone" memories are mostly as a preteen child, when the phone was not a big deal really.

My office has gotten rid of all the landlines in conference rooms, so it's much more annoying to make calls from work now because coverage sucks here (which is somewhat ironic since I work at a Huge Tech Company).
posted by thefoxgod at 5:18 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


I finally disconnected you last month, landline. How I miss your comforting dial tone, the tactile pleasure of punching in your digits and the clarity and fidelity of your connection. And I miss terribly the intimacy of the conversations you enabled, but that was long ago.... I was the final holdout, getting calls now only from strangers demanding money. That got to be too much, so you had to go.
posted by Rash at 5:24 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


> A friend got business cards at her new job recently and they have her personal cell phone number on them, which felt so inappropriate to me but she felt was normal.

I think this is very much in flux but I wouldn't be happy with a boss who did it without asking.

One issue is security: if someone can convince your phone company to port your number to another device, they might be able to hijack password reset texts. This is a well-known scam.

One option if you need to push back on such a request might be to set up a cheap or free call forwarding service. Google Voice is free and pretty decent.

Some businesses seem to conduct "calls" mostly over video conferencing services. If that continues to become more common, this might be less of an issue.
posted by smelendez at 5:25 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


Yeah it was lots of fun getting obscene phone calls at age 8 on my parents landline, yep. Mostly what I remember about landlines was that they were fucking expensive, even as cell phones began to take over. A long-distance call added up fast. And long-distance could be the next county over. Don't miss that shit.
posted by emjaybee at 5:33 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


I'm mystified by the "landlines sound(ed) better" comments. Except for the occasional poor cell connection, I don't find cell phones or modern smart phones to sound substantially different from when I used a landline - it's somewhat attenuated now, but it was just as attenuated then too.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:34 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


A friend got business cards at her new job recently and they have her personal cell phone number on them, which felt so inappropriate to me but she felt was normal.

Hahahahahaha no
posted by Automocar at 5:36 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine who is a sales person was so amazed by the fact that I didn't have a phone at my last job that she's brought it up in conversation almost every time I've seen her. When I told her that I got a new job, she immediately asked me if I had a phone. She thinks it's like the craziest thing ever that I have a desk with no phone.
posted by octothorpe at 6:02 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


The thing that I like the most about cell phones isn't even really a thing about cell phones - it's a cultural shift that's come with their rise to prominence: the idea that just calling someone with no warning is a rude thing to do. I use my phone to talk on the phone, but it's almost always for a call that the other party and I have agreed to over text or email. Even my wife and I will mostly text "got a second to talk?" before calling. Only my parents and scammers just call me and expect me to talk to them on demand.

Because of this thread I just asked a 17 year old about this and she thinks you're being ridiculous. Isn't it a little rude to expect everyone who needs to talk to you to be able to text you? If I only have a flip phone am I supposed to press keys 3 times per letter to text my lord? Should I send a nice raised lettering calling card by bird? How important does a call have to be such that it is no longer rude to not set it up ahead of time? What is this Victorian England?

Nothing personal, whatever floats your boat.
posted by Pembquist at 6:15 PM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


We get nothing but scam calls and telemarketers on our landline. It's part of a bundle and doesn't cost that much so my husband still wants it around, but we never answer it. Scams are beginning to creep onto our cell phones as well. Grrrr...
posted by lazydog at 6:38 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


How important does a call have to be such that it is no longer rude to not set it up ahead of time?
Is someone dying?
No?
Fix that first.
posted by CrystalDave at 6:51 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


You couldn't unplug them until the '80s; they were hard-wired into the wall. And the bell could be turned down but not off.

Ah, but the case only required unscrewing two screws on the bottom to get inside, and once there you could easily remove the bell ringers or (my preference) wrap them with a layer of adhesive tape, so the ring became just a soft rattle.

On an old wall phone I removed the whole ringer assembly and replaced it with the inards of a special "Phone Flash" module which I found at Radio Shack, which would then illluminate a 60w bulb I attached to the wall over the phone... great times.

What I miss about landlines is not so much sound quality but low latency. Talking on the mobile is incredibly stressful for me because everyone is constantly stepping on each other's comment.

Me too, can't understand how everyone else deals with this -- so goddanm annoying, impossible to have a decent conversation when the connection's like that. But connection are not always so bad, and seems to me sometimes to depend on who's calling, maybe it's because of their phone, or plan provider.
posted by Rash at 7:04 PM on December 18, 2019 [4 favorites]


No lost love for landlines here. We got a dial up internet connection when I was about 11, so by the time I was old enough to want to have private conversations with friends, everyone had a million free hours of AOL on CD. My two best friends and I had a running chat; off the school bus and onto the computer. I remember doing my French homework while waiting for the chat to load. Oh dial-up.

The only role landlines had in my life was weekly long distance calls to grandparents, which took a lot of fussing to connect. My mom tells me that back in the early 80s, you had to book international calls, ie go to a phone store of some sort (Western Union? Not clear to me what these phone stores were.) and tell them who you wanted to call and just wait forever until they connected your call. Compared to that, a quick free text message "free to talk?" is so much kinder.

I do have a landline at work but am underwhelmed with voice quality. I'm pretty sure it's VOIP, but my previous place had POTS phones and I never remember thinking "boy this sounds great!"
posted by basalganglia at 7:11 PM on December 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


My mom tells me that back in the early 80s, you had to book international calls

What?!? Um, hate to break it to you, but unless you are talking about the 1880’s she may have been pulling your leg. Unless things were seriously different where you live.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:23 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


One reason workplaces need the personal mobile numbers of their workers is in case of unexpected events: say there is a fire at the workplace or surrounding area, we would immediately cascade a call tree telling people not to come into work, otherwise they could put themselves in danger. It also allows you to quickly determine after a chaotic incident / evacuation that you have everyone accounted for. Not just fire: detection of hazardous chemicals or gases, power failure, flooding, or even union dispute or rioting... we've seen it all.
posted by xdvesper at 7:29 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you call my cellphone while I'm home, and if I happen to be near enough my cell to notice the call and pick up, I'm gonna tell you to call me back on the landline so we can actually talk. That's the way it is and that's the way it's gonna stay.

Then again, I'm so old I used to use my landline to connect to FIDONet BBSes through a 300 baud acoustic coupler.
posted by escabeche at 8:00 PM on December 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


I never found the audio quality of a copper-to-copper land-line connection to be warm and rich enough. No, if someone wants to talk to me, I'm afraid I have to insist that they record their message on 200-gram vinyl for me to listen to on my hi-fi while I take my evening pipe.
posted by webmutant at 8:40 PM on December 18, 2019 [7 favorites]


Re the whole "it still works if the power goes out" thing - aren't most of the exchanges digital now anyway? I mean I'm sure there are battery backups and stuff but I was under the impression the only copper wire in my (long removed) landline was between the house and the digital converter. I've never had my mobile service disrupted by a power outage - the only time service has gotten weird for me in a city was during Occupy, when some of the towers got overloaded because they weren't designed for that much traffic. In the event of a major catastrophe like a hurricane or tornado (or a dirty bomb in the subway, for that matter), I'm not sure how much point there is in having a phone you can't carry around with you.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:46 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


I do miss location-based systems though. If land-lines could somehow send and receive texts, that would keep them around a while longer. I'd really love to be able to text, eg my doctor's reception desk and while an app is convenient, it seems ridiculous if expect every office has to contract out to some programmers to create their own app. And with that many apps, who really wants to install yet another app, and have to make an account, and then figure out how to get it to do the thing you want.

Oh man but I do remember my childhood home having two phone lines, the family one and the one for my parent's home business, with the living room phone having a line-1 and line-2 button. I wouldn't always remember to check that it was on the family's line and sometimes get in trouble. Oh yeah and who could forget the briefcase car phone. The 80's were something, weren't they.
posted by fragmede at 8:51 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


All that said, I grew up without a phone until I was eleven. We just straight up didn't have a phone of any sort until Mountain Bell offered some kind of deal to bring the wires the last few miles to our house.

My grandparents had a party line until the early nineties. For the unfamiliar means your phone line is basically shared with the other people on the exchange - in their case the next two sets of neighbors. So if the neighbors were talking to someone and you picked up the phone, you damn well waited until they were done. In an emergency you basically had to interrupt them and beg them to get off, because you just . . . couldn't make a call until everyone hung up.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:52 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


Re the whole "it still works if the power goes out" thing - aren't most of the exchanges digital now anyway?

I'm not sure where my landline goes digital these days, I suspect it is in the SAI at the end of my road. They've been busy running fiber for a number of years now.

It has a big honking battery, but yes, it would eventually die and my POTS line would be useless.

I will say though, that when we have our triennial snow event and the power goes out, I've had much better luck getting a call out with the landline than on the overloaded cell towers.
posted by madajb at 10:55 PM on December 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


My grandparents had a party line until the early nineties.

We used a party line with a modem.
You quickly learned to stay up late enough that Mabel down the street wasn't likely to pick up the line and zap your download.

It was replaced by fiber optic drop direct to the house, so it went from the 1930s to the year 2000 overnight.
posted by madajb at 11:00 PM on December 18, 2019 [5 favorites]


As a person who has moved around a lot all my life, it’s a secret pleasure of mine that I’ve had the same (cell)phone number for 20 years.

The only people I ever talk to on the phone are my mom and employer-type people when I’m looking for a job.

I pace around my house while I’m on any call and when I’m on the phone with my mom, pick up and generally organize stuff. There’s a lot of catharses involved - both talking to my mom and getting some cleaning done.

When I was in high school and talked to friends on the landline I would do absent-minded stuff like unravel the socks I was wearing. I lost a lot of cool socks.
posted by bendy at 11:07 PM on December 18, 2019 [3 favorites]


Recently I was using the bathroom at an office of a world-leading phone manufacturer.

A guy comes in, unzips, starts to pee and with his other hand pulls out his phone and starts to browse. A call comes in, so he swaps his phone into his left hand and his dick into his right, answers the call and carries on peeing. The call finishes, he hangs up, zips up and leaves the bathroom without washing his hands.

To do that with a landline, you'd need a really long cord for a start, and the little LCD screen would be really hard to squint at while pressing the keys simultaneously, and the weight of the phone would mean you'd have to balance it on your knee anyway. You'd have to be a contortionist; you'd inevitably end up pissing all over the guy next to you.

Yay for progress.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 12:09 AM on December 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Two kids try to dial a phone.
posted by bendy at 3:11 AM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Unless things were seriously different where you live.

She grew up in India, moved to Brussels in 1981, and to the US in 1983. She was probably talking about calls between India and Brussels.

From Wikipedia:
In many less-developed countries, such as Spain, Mexico, Brazil, and Egypt, calls were placed at a central office the caller went to, filled out a paper slip, sometimes paid in advance for the call, and then waited for it to be connected.[1] In Spain these were known as locutorios, literally "a place to talk". In towns too small to support a phone office, placing long distance calls was a sideline for some businesses with telephones, such as pharmacies.

(The citation is to a 1989 travelogue where the guy calls Tallahassee from Spain.)

It's only very very recently that the whole word has been telephonically interconnected; my grandparents in India didn't have a phone line until about 1999. We would call my aunt at pre-arranged times when we knew they were going to be there, usually early Sunday morning from the US/Sunday night in India, and had to pre-dial a long string of numbers (kept taped to the phone on my dad's nightstand) to get a slightly better rate, and had to basically yell to be heard (although that might be because my grandmother was nearly deaf).

Twenty years later, I can pick up my cell phone and call my family in India or my colleagues in Europe, absolutely free with Whatsapp. Yeah, no lost love for Ma Bell.
posted by basalganglia at 4:17 AM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


Our landline became nothing but a source of irritation because of the high volume of telemarketer and fraud calls. After my great aunt died, I got rid of it.
posted by usedsongs at 4:27 AM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Yeah though, we didn't fight the spam and telemarketer calls as hard as we might have, because there was an emerging alternative - and a lot of money lined up to convince us that the alternative was better in all ways. Had we not had somewhere to go and investors pushing us there, it's likely we would have pushed for and won more stringent regulation on unwanted calls.
posted by Miko at 4:48 AM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


If I only have a flip phone am I supposed to press keys 3 times per letter to text my lord? Should I send a nice raised lettering calling card by bird? How important does a call have to be such that it is no longer rude to not set it up ahead of time? What is this Victorian England?

I mean, personally, I think that expecting to be able to ring a bell and have another person drop what they're doing and attend to your needs is almost literally Victorian lord behavior, but hey, different strokes.
posted by Ragged Richard at 5:10 AM on December 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


She was probably talking about calls between India and Brussels

Ah, that makes sense then. More developed countries had direct-dial by the 80’s. My experience with international calls at that time was between North America and Western Europe.
posted by fimbulvetr at 5:21 AM on December 19, 2019


With all the push by phone companies to get people to adopt high profit cellphones (one per person!) instead of high-maintenance family landlines which require a massive infrastructure investment, it is not surprising they do little to steam the tide of spam calls.
posted by fimbulvetr at 5:25 AM on December 19, 2019 [7 favorites]


So few people actually call me that I'd say 95% of the calls I get on my mobile are scams/telemarketers, also, but it was the same with my landline by the time I had it removed 6 years ago. I don't care one way or the other what sort of phone I use, but as I mentioned in the recent thread about nostalgic sounds, I fondly recall those of rotary dialing and the satisfying clunk of of hanging up the handset on old phones.

I only changed my 20-year-old mobile number 2 months ago, and I get texts in Spanish for a guy named Miguel, which I don't respond to. I'm not sure if they're phishing texts, because sometimes I got those on my old number.

My family was nothing like the TFA author's, so I have no wistful nostalgia about using landlines. I wasn't allowed to call any friends when I was a kid/teen, and if I answered for my aunt, I was to hand the phone over ASAP with no chit-chat to the caller besides "I'm fine, thank you, here she is." I remember the first number we had when we moved to Milwaukee in 1973. When I first came to her home in Michigan as a 3-year-old in 1972, she was on a party line. I vaguely remember her arguing with her downstairs neighbor about using it.

Once I left her house, I was never one to call people unless it was making work or personal arrangements or older relative-related. I only put two and two together about that recently, not that my friends these days would have me call them. They prefer texting, as do I. In my surrogate family, everyone texts, even the over-75s. We will actually speak on birthdays and holidays, though, if we're not together.
posted by droplet at 6:31 AM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I still have a landline and I ONLY use if someone complains so hard that they can't hear me, can't we just use the landline? I also kept it for power outages, but now I have some electronic phone and that doesn't work during power outages, so what's the point? Otherwise I just ignore it when it rings, for obvious reasons.

Sadly, my industry still has tons and tons and tons of people who call, which really sucks. We had the office closed, phones included, for the "party" for several hours and the call center staff said when they came back, there were several people waiting on hold for an HOUR.

I like how everyone hates phones now because they have text options. Before texting, everyone was obligated to love it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:35 AM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


But, like, does anyone else fucking HATE the way a cellphone feels against the ear?

I can feel my brain frying when I talk on a cell phone. I get a headache in the same spot right above and behind my ear.
posted by slogger at 6:54 AM on December 19, 2019


I like how everyone hates phones now because they have text options. Before texting, everyone was obligated to love it.

I think of texting as the revenge of the telegram, back from the grave to murder voice and take its rightful place atop the rapid communications hierarchy.

Interestingly, the Age of the Telegram was probably longer than the Age of the Voice Call (although admittedly telegrams were too expensive for us mere proles to use casually for much of their history). Letters obviously reigned for much longer before that, since the advent of daily (or multiple-daily) delivery service. So one can argue that text messages are a sort of reversion to the mean.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:46 AM on December 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


I get the thing about actually talking on the phone , though. I'm one of those people who always kind of hated doing it and never does it now but it's still kind of weird that nobody does, even with the people closest to them.

I've had about fifteen phone calls since yesterday. In my world, anyway, business is often done on the phone. So much easier than endless texting back and forth, if you want to get to the bottom of something quickly.

Apparently it's a thing that lots of millenials have some sort of phobia about talking on the phone. The millenial I'm closest to, my wife, does in fact have an aversion to talking on the phone.

I don't get it.
posted by JeffL at 7:52 AM on December 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


A friend got business cards at her new job recently and they have her personal cell phone number on them, which felt so inappropriate to me but she felt was normal.

I guess it's somewhat dependent on the job, but that sounds reasonable to me. Obviously anyone in (outside) sales would make their number available, right?

I don't have a job, or a boss, but I have customers, and they all have my cell phone number.
posted by JeffL at 7:58 AM on December 19, 2019


I've also noticed millenials/Gen Zs have a bizarre aversion to phone calls. I have a very hard time convincing my younger employees to call people (or even just go talk to them face to face when they are in our building) to solve problems. Inevitably, they seem to take hours or even days of emailing or texting back and forth to deal with an issue that could be solved with a quick phone call to discuss the problem. It drives me crazy. I don't like cold-calling people I don't know, but if it will save a lot of time and effort, and limit misunderstanding, I'll do it. It's part of my job.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:03 AM on December 19, 2019 [8 favorites]


Speaking of aversion to phone calls; I did not have a Smartphone till November 2018. I had a T-Mobile Sidekick Flipphone; so no WhatsApp etc. I used to call people regularly (friends and family once a week at the same time).

After succumbing to family pressure and finally joining the 21st century and getting a Smartphone; I joined various WhatsApp groups and started happily chatting and didn't call regularly. People were pissed. They WANTED me to keep calling! So now I am back to calling regularly; but it feels different now that I am also on WhatsApp with these people.

But yeah, calling seems weirder now that we are all connected with each other ALL the time.
posted by indianbadger1 at 8:16 AM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


I have a crotchety friend who refuses to get a cell phone. It's a major pain to get in touch with her since I have to wait for her to get home, listen to her messages, and decide to call me back. I told her that from now on I would only answer her calls, on my cell phone, when I am in my house. Boy did that post her off.
posted by waving at 8:25 AM on December 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


Count me on "team phone call." I've found that, when dealing with ecommerce foibles, talking to a customer service rep on the phone has a much higher likelihood of the situation getting resolved to my satisfaction than depending on automated systems or email. A recent interaction I had with a GenZ colleague went something like this:

Colleague: When I need something from a company I Twitter-shame them.
Me: I find that talking on the phone gets me better results, faster.
Colleague: There's no way I want to put in that much effort.

What struck me was the idea that talking to someone on the phone was considered to be a significant effort. Clearly this is a generational shift - I have been talking to strangers on the phone for my whole life. I get random calls from friends and relatives and I answer them, because it is a gift when someone wants to reach out and talk. I don't really understand the concept of a call being akin to Victorian lording, but if you've grown up with the expectation that Calling Is Rude, I guess that's a natural train of thought. But the idea that talking is too much effort? Is that a common feeling?
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:34 AM on December 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


I hate having voice calls on my cell. I find them to be exhausting, especially if the other party is in a car or otherwise in motion. Also, it's damn near impossible to cradle a cellphone so that I can use both hands—especially true if the call also requires typing, and especially, especially if it requires the entry of passwords as two-handed muscle memory is an important part of my properly entering a password.

I will almost always ask that we have such calls on landline.
posted by bz at 8:41 AM on December 19, 2019


Like fimbulvetr at the top of the thread I have a land line complete with a rotary phone that I have carried around since the early 1980s. Man, that thing is indestructible, and rings loud enough to wake the dead when the ringer is turned all the way up (there is a dial on the bottom that adjusts the volume). I also have a vintage wall-mounted touch-tone phone that I liberated from work when we switched to VOIP phones. Since I am often on call I like having that redundancy.

The change I have really noticed is the rise of free long distance. Back in the day if we wanted to talked to our grandparents 1000 miles away, we would have to wait until 7:00 pm when the rates went down. Then gather everyone around the one phone in the house (because renting additional phones from AT&T also cost money) and pass the receiver around taking turns talking, assuming you were lucky enough to catch them at home. There were also little tricks to avoid long distance charges, such as when traveling calling home person-to-person but asking for someone who wasn’t there as a pre-arranged signal that you had safely reached your destination. Then in the 1980s companies like Sprint came along and lowered long distance charges, but you had to dial a special number, then put in your personal code, and so forth to make a call. Of course now we have reverted to those times with Skype and FaceTime, with everyone gathered around whatever screen is handy to have a family chat from a distance. But now we are able to use our free long distance calling to touch base ahead of time and make sure everyone will be around at the appointed time.
posted by TedW at 8:53 AM on December 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


For you young folks out there this Wikipedia article describes old-fashioned person-to-person and station-to-station calling.
posted by TedW at 8:58 AM on December 19, 2019


As to people avoiding voice calls, When I was a contractor working from home, I always insisted that instructions or significant information be sent by email. Before that, I had been accused of not doing something I had supposedly been told verbally.

I doubt that's why these kids today don't like to talk on the phone. Maybe it's the annoying experience of using a low-fidelity radio to converse without any of the radio etiquette that push-to-talk switches force. As noted a couple of times already cell phones don't let you hear what the other person is saying when you are also talking, and vice-versa. You may not even know that they spoke. Landlines don't have that problem.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:58 AM on December 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


I always insisted that instructions or significant information be sent by email.

Yes. Even if you are in the next room, send email or Slack or a Jira or something typy to today-me so the words will be there for tomorrow-me to read. "Let's see. He told yesterday-me on Thursday afternoon that he wants today-me to deliver these things in this order by Friday morning. OK, here today-we go..."
posted by pracowity at 10:07 AM on December 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


I mean, personally, I think that expecting to be able to ring a bell and have another person drop what they're doing and attend to your needs is almost literally Victorian lord behavior, but hey, different strokes.

I'll take it on faith that this is honestly what you feel a telephone call is. I have never felt any particular need to answer the phone if it rings and most people have some sense of etiquette about when it is polite to call . On the other hand I experience texts a little the way you experience phone calls, as demands. It seems very rude not to reply to a text if it is from someone I know. Texting feels much more like being buttonholed by someone than a ringing phone.

How do you feel about doorbells, do you answer the door? I'm asking seriously as my wife was out doing surveying of people who had gotten trees from Friends of Trees and on a fair number of occasions she could tell people were home but they wouldn't come to the door, and I am wondering if this is another evolution in manners, the Ring Camera freeze out or such.
posted by Pembquist at 10:13 AM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


That is why I follow up important work-related phone calls with an email to acknowledge what I understood was discussed and agreed upon. Personal contact and ease of a phone call, with a written record afterwards.
posted by fimbulvetr at 10:16 AM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


How do you feel about doorbells, do you answer the door? I'm asking seriously as my wife was out doing surveying of people who had gotten trees from Friends of Trees and on a fair number of occasions she could tell people were home but they wouldn't come to the door, and I am wondering if this is another evolution in manners, the Ring Camera freeze out or such.

There are very, very few instances in which someone comes to my door that I am not expecting (delivery person, building super, friend who has already arranged to stop by) and whom I do want to see. I can't remember the last time I answered an unexpected knock on the door and the person on the other side was actually a welcome visitor. I decide on a case-by-case basis whether I am willing to answer the door. The decision is mostly based on whether I am already wearing pants.

This, by the way, is not really an evolution in etiquette. Miss Manners has always maintained that even excruciatingly correct people are not obligated to answer a knock at the door. Or a ringing phone. If you are not available to take a caller or a call for whatever reason, then you can ignore the summoning bell.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:34 AM on December 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


How do you feel about doorbells, do you answer the door?

Almost never. I find random doorbell-ringers very intrusive - but that's probably because neighbors and friends don't really just pop in and ring the doorbell in my current way of life. Since it's way more likely to be a religious proselytizer, magazine seller, political candidate, fundraising collector, scammer/burglar , or delivery person who's going to leave the box anyway, I have low expectations that this is an interaction I want or need to have. So I almost always pretend I'm not home or can't hear.

Obviously if I'm expecting someone that's different. It's only fair to call or text ahead. Even the meter readers do that now.
posted by Miko at 10:54 AM on December 19, 2019 [3 favorites]


A strong theme/commonality here seems to be "Odds an incoming message is valuable vs. spam/scam/etc." (with synchronous vs. asynchronous communication also being a strong point)
Someone's calling and it's made it past the Google spam-detection. Will it be: not-yet-detected junk? a recruiter who scraped my phone number from somewhere and wants to advertise to me? someone asking for donations? someone who I actually would want to hear from who didn't pre-arrange the call and who I don't have their number already saved?
Based on my 2019 call logs, that last category happened... none of the time.
Same sort of thing for "person at the door". The one time it's happened this year, it was "I dropped off some cookies for new neighbors, & even then I figured there was a good chance they'd want to say thanks when they found them" (and even then, they texted a thank-you note afterwards)
But to a good approximation, if you're showing up at the door but you don't have my contact information, your interpretation of "would I want to receive you?" is probably very different than my own.

This is where I love the ubiquity of voicemail, as it serves as a threshold-of-effort/forcing function for providing a message. If you're calling me unexpectedly, and you don't care enough to leave a message, then it can't have been important.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:18 AM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


I mean, personally, I think that expecting to be able to ring a bell and have another person drop what they're doing and attend to your needs is almost literally Victorian lord behavior, but hey, different strokes.

See, I feel that way about texts. If you call me, and I don't want to talk to you, I just don't answer, and you leave a message, or you don't. You have no idea why I didn't answer or when I got your message.

If you text me, you can see that I read the text and then chose not to respond. That feels pressuring to me in a far deeper way than my choice to accept a call does.
posted by anastasiav at 11:38 AM on December 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


> If you text me, you can see that I read the text

That's something you can control in your settings, often. Not if you're on Facebook or Line or what have you, which is a good reason not to use them with people who would care.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:53 AM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


You have no idea why I didn't answer or when I got your message.
This holds up with
If you text me, you can see that I read the text and then chose not to respond.
though. Sure, I might've seen it, but it could've been a notification I didn't want to get to when driving/at work, or maybe I want to deal with it later, or maybe I'm out drinking and I don't want that to tint my response, or...

Policing read notifications is like being that person who counts the number of rings to harass someone for silencing their phone vs. letting it ring out.
(individual anxiety over things will be what it is, I'm not seeking to invalidate your sense of pressure)
posted by CrystalDave at 12:04 PM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


But the idea that talking is too much effort? Is that a common feeling?

I think the idea is that talking on the shitty phone is too much effort because of all the things mentioned upthread regarding modern voice calls. I used to talk on the landline all the time upto about 2002 or so when I noticed the phone calls were different and shittier and harder to talk to people properly due to delay or distortion or time splicing or whatever the fuck they're doing to my voice as it is converted back and forth from analog to digital to analog and processed and compressed lossily etc...


By 2005 I started doing things differently at work just to avoid having to use the shitty shitty cisco VOIP shit they put in everywhere.

Nowadays I have to have a completely empty house with no sounds and like schedule a time in my calendar so i can psych myself up to call the doctor's office back.

Technology did this to me.
posted by some loser at 1:44 PM on December 19, 2019 [6 favorites]


Seriously. Talking on the phone was not this excruciating when I was a teenager. I was certainly not less socially anxious as a teenager.

I can put up with shitty walkie-talkie level phone connections when I'm being paid to (and where conversations do fit more neatly into a you-talk-then-I-talk sequence) but personal conversations are now awful in a way they weren't back then.

If only I had better luck getting my family and friends on board with ways to maintain connection that don't involve advertising, the endless scroll, and touchscreen-induced repetitive stress injury.
posted by asperity at 1:54 PM on December 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


Who are all these people that aren't receiving scam calls on their cell phones? That's like 95% of the calls I get.

Around 50% of the calls I get on my mobile phone are spam. And I rarely give that number to anyone. It's really rare to get a spam call on the VOIP.

I would like to have a regular landline but VOIP is much cheaper. I don't know why people want to only have a mobile phone, I don't give that number out. I don't want any more random people calling me wherever I am.
posted by bongo_x at 3:29 PM on December 19, 2019 [1 favorite]


Other nerd friends have started to do dial-up BBSing over VOIP. It's tremendously slow and inefficient (tops out at about 300 baud) but they're mostly running PETs so it won't be much faster. It beats waiting around to die, but only just.

I can say from personal experience that a moderately busy IRC channel takes only sightly less than 2400bps. When I was spending weekends in a different city when I was a teen, I had to use whatever I could dig out of the closet to get online. Back then, a lot of ISPs offered shell accounts that almost no people actually used since they wanted to use Netscape or whatever.

But really, there are two reasons why talking on cell phones always sucks, even if you're using something ancient (or based on an ancient design) so that the ergonomics are decent: Extremely high latency that used to be the domain only of international calls using a satellite and the carriers' cramming ever more calls into the same bandwidth regardless of the resultant call quality.

AMPS sounded as good as a landline unless you were far from the tower, in which case you'd get some intrusive static. As importantly, being an entirely analog (or an old style digital trunk), so there was almost zero perceptible latency. We have known since at least the early 1960s that people begin to have trouble carrying on a conversation once latency gets above about 300 milliseconds. The usual cues we use to know when to talk cease to work above that point.

With each new generation of equipment, the carriers have continued to make it worse. HD Voice can do better, but rarely does in practice, except on VoIP. I could write more about the technical issues that make phones so shitty these days, but it's enough to say that there is a reason why ATM and SONET existed (and still do). It's unfortunate that the IP people won that argument, at least for this one particular use case..
posted by wierdo at 3:41 PM on December 19, 2019 [5 favorites]


Despite my above comment about having a landline and all, I generally hate phone calls. With strangers. I really try and avoid any place that requires appointments / service / etc by phone. I will put off making appointments for weeks or months to avoid a phone call.

But with close friends and family, it flips. I don't want to use email or text as those are drastically inferior to a real conversation. So in person > phone > email > text for friends/family, but email > text > in person > phone for strangers / businesses.

Texting is basically the worst, for anything real (not strictly facts/business oriented). [And I'm including both SMS and IM services like Hangouts/FB/LINE/etc in 'text']. Even at work I avoid answering IMs (reply via email instead) because texting is terrible.

And yeah, I get more spam calls on my cell than my landline, but both are heavily screened (I would only answer a call if its a close friend or a business I'm expecting a callback from). The vast majority go to voicemail and most don't leave a message because they're spammers.
posted by thefoxgod at 7:52 PM on December 19, 2019 [2 favorites]


To expand on it a bit more, cell phones and a lot of voip sucks only because nobody cares about the important metrics. Yeah, the fancy codecs can reproduce voice as well or better than a landline, but they add around 150ms of delay, maybe ~100ms at best. That means you're on the edge of the "whose turn is it to talk" situation even in the best case scenario.

Add to that the move from synchronous backhaul to asynchronous backhaul, which adds at least a few milliseconds of buffering latency at every network interface, even if the underlying switching fabric uses cut through forwarding and is configured to minimize the possibility of buffering. Over 10 hops, that adds up. Crossing provider boundaries means buffering in the higher level gateways that adds even more latency. It's a wonder that they manage to keep the latency to less than half a second these days. It all adds up to a situation where everything is fine in the lab and even still pretty good in field testing, but fails in real world use because they aren't intentionally testing for what actually matters to a useful voice call. Issues of the phones themselves only add to the reasons not to make voice calls.
posted by wierdo at 9:47 PM on December 19, 2019 [4 favorites]


This is where I love the ubiquity of voicemail, as it serves as a threshold-of-effort/forcing function for providing a message. If you're calling me unexpectedly, and you don't care enough to leave a message, then it can't have been important.

Because of the ubiquity of text messaging, if somebody leaves me a voicemail I know it's either a spammer or my mother.
posted by atoxyl at 12:30 AM on December 20, 2019 [2 favorites]


Counterpoint: I am an Old Millennial? Cusp? that is delighted to chat on the phone. I do text with people who prefer text as their main mode of communication, but I have some friends and relatives who also enjoy talking on the phone. I like to hear people’s voices and even with the quality, or lack thereof, of digital calling I feel that there is tone present in voice contact that isn’t there when we’re texting. I also like the immediacy of speaking on the phone; I can get the information I wanted without waiting for someone to check their texts/emails and then wait or forget to respond (I am also guilty of this, which is why I tell people just to call me).
posted by sara is disenchanted at 7:55 AM on December 20, 2019 [1 favorite]


Old millennial here.

Calling customer service is excruciating for reasons that have nothing to do with sound quality. It’s because the people at the call center are forced to make both themselves and me jump through annoying, manipulative, time-wasting hoops to satisfy their bosses’ idea of metrics. It’s not the phone call per se; it’s the unhelpful bureaucracy.

Calling co-workers at a non-pre-arranged time: I don’t like doing it because I know I’m interrupting them. I don’t like it when I’m really in the flow of coding or writing, and then a co-worker calls about something totally different, unceremoniously derailing my train of thought and making me have to instantly do a total change of mental gears to answer their question or solve their problem on the spot. It’s certainly faster for the caller to get their question answered that way, but it fully derails whatever the call recipient was doing. (And no, I can’t just say “Can I call you back” — my focus is already broken by that point, so I may as well just answer the question.)

I like having an instant messaging system at work, so I can ping someone to say “Hey, I have a question about Project X when you have 5 minutes, let me know when you can talk.” I prefer it when people do the same for me.

Calling friends: I’m of just the right age to have carried out most of my high school heart-to-hearts via AOL Instant Messenger. Much more privacy from eavesdropping family, because typed conversations can’t be overheard. Plus it gave me time to craft my words, at an age when it felt like eternal meaning hung on every word. So text-based conversations can feel as intimate to me as voice-based. Maybe more intimate — the slight detachment of text lets you open up with less self-consciousness, just like posting here.

I do miss the reliability of copper-wire landline phone service. Stays on even if cable and power are out. But these days, even if you pay for a land line, the phone company will push you to VOIP anyway.

Honestly, I freaking love living in the future with wireless portable videophones. Yes, we are having to develop new etiquette to deal with the new capabilities. But that’s okay.
posted by snowmentality at 11:30 AM on December 20, 2019 [3 favorites]


In the last 5-6 years I feel like mobile voice quality has pretty much surpassed any supposed audible superiority of the old analog systems, but device does seem to make a big difference here. It may also be that my memory and hearing are both declining. It's not like there weren't quality issues calling coast-to-coast 25 years ago.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:20 AM on December 21, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to hear people talk about copper landlines as being important during power outages. My memory of the landline in the house I grew up in is it often went out in the same bad weather that knocked out the power. I've never had it inclement weather knock out a cell tower, but maybe my experience is unusual.

I'm curious how parents with younger (say elementary age) kids handle communications without a home phone.

What do you put down on the form at the doctor?


I'm much, much more available during the day than my wife, so we put down my number for everything. We use a shared Google Calendar for everything so either of us can update it at any time.

Our kids aren't old enough to receive phone calls yet but I have the same question. I want to delay giving them phones of their own for as long as possible but I have a suspicion that the age at which it's appropriate for someone to call them directly will correlate strongly with the age at which we cave in and give them phones of their own.

I guess if we really needed a "here's how to reach the whole family" phone number I'd probably set up some kind of Google Voice or similar VoIP thing that rings all of our phones but there's a lot of downsides for that.

I've found that, when dealing with ecommerce foibles, talking to a customer service rep on the phone has a much higher likelihood of the situation getting resolved to my satisfaction than depending on automated systems or email.

This has not been my experience at all. My experience is you sit on hold for a very long time, then you speak to three different reps none of whom can fix your problem. It's specifically designed to waste the customer's time, whereas messaging systems mean that I can just report the problem and then go about my day and they can message me when they have fixed it. Even better is fully automated systems where the company has proactively identified common failure modes and has a way for me to click a button and get a fix.
posted by Tehhund at 9:11 AM on December 21, 2019 [2 favorites]


Sixty years old. Didn't get around to owning a cell phone until I was at least forty-five. But I can't say I miss landlines at all ... for all the reasons already mentioned. Even as I sort of agree with grumpybear69 above:

Landline phones didn't follow you to movies and restaurants and bother you with work-related emails on vacation

I deal with this by simply not always having my cellphone with me and/or not being shy about turning it off when I don't feel like being interrupted. I'm sure this annoys some people (and I'm pretty sure I lost one job because of it) but I think of it as defining some important boundaries. Specifically, "This is how available I will be to you. I'm sorry I can't be more accommodating but trust me, I'd be more sorry the other way ... not to mention crazy. I need time away for reasons. If the world ends because of it, I'm okay with that. It was bound to happen eventually anyway."

The modern problem is that there are a million ways to contact someone but

My particular peeve in all of this are the people who pretty much NEVER do phone calls anymore. I get that they can be annoying in all manner of ways, but every now and then, a simple one minute phone call can do the business of an entire day's worth of emails, text messages, whatever. The only thing more effective is being in the same room with them, making eye contact etc.
posted by philip-random at 11:14 AM on December 25, 2019 [1 favorite]


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