The End of “The Line”

Recently,my husband and I reluctantly let go of yet another link to the past.  We discontinued our land line phone service for our home. Now we rely on cell phones, texts, emails, and social networks for personal communications.  I must confess, that I was the last hold-out when it came to giving the land line the “heave-ho”.  Several years after my parents went wireless (they are in their seventies), I was still hanging on to the days of old.

Admittedly, my reluctance is just due to old habits dying hard.  Part of it is for nostalgic reasons. I am the kind of person that, even though I have the technology to read e-books (have used it many times and enjoy the convenience), I still like to read real paper books. I like the atmosphere and experience of going to the local library.  I like the physical experience of seeing, touching, and even smelling the vast array of books in the stacks of bookcases that reside in library. I find, there is almost a “reverence” for reading in libraries, and the good old days of “common courtesy” still is evident as people make the effort to speak in hushed tones so as not to disturb the other patrons. Something is lost in the leap to the higher technology of the e-book, with its reliance on batteries, staring at the same cold electronic display for every book, and the need to put on a noise-cancelling headset to drown out the sounds of the tv, radio, and conversations around you.

I feel the same about losing the land line for my phone.  Now, I have never had the “physical” experience of going to the telephone company to see and touch the phone lines.  And, unless something was terribly wrong with my handset, I never “smelled” a conversation on the land line.  However, something is lost/different in making the leap to the “wireless only” household.  Here are some of the reasons I wanted to keep the land line for so long:

1.  Okay, maybe I am being a little paranoid with this reason, but unlike conversations on cellphones, those on land lines are, at least theoretically, private.  Someone has to have a warrant to tap your phone and listen in without your knowledge.  When I speak on my cellphone, it brings to mind the early days of baby monitors, where if your neighbor had something on the same frequency, they could hear what was going on in your house through your baby monitor.  Now I don’t have any reason to think that someone is out there trying to listen in on my cellphone conversations (I am sure they are not that interesting), but there is something more appealing about the privacy associated with the land line. It just makes me feel more secure and “in control”.

2.  I used my land line for my business fax.  After “testing out” an online fax service for the past two-three years, I have decided that the online fax service is more trustworthy than my home fax machine in having copies and a record of faxes that are sent and received.  It can also be more convenient in that I can send files on my computer as faxes to other people.

3.  If I misplaced my cell phone in the past, I could always use my land line to call my cell phone.  The ringing helped me locate the cell phone.  The simplest way for me to address this problem without a land line, is to clip my cellphone to my waist and wear it everywhere (it makes quite the fashion statement).  I am sure there are probably other gadgets or technologies out there that also help you find your cell phone but I would prefer to keep it simple for now (“baby steps” please).  Right now, just losing the land line still feels a little like flying without a safety net!

4.  This is the reason that I think should be a concern for anyone considering “the end of the line” at their home.  Some cities do not have the capability to broadcast messages/warnings to its residents via a “reverse 911” to a cell phone.   They can do it for land lines, but not cell phones or internet-based phone numbers. Some reasons that a city might use a reverse 911 call out are:

  • Chemical spills
  • Natural Disasters
  • Fires
  • Missing or endangered child
  • Missing or endangered at-risk adult
  • Searches for armed and dangerous persons
  • Any other Emergency Management event that may affect the community such as a radiological release or homeland security threat

Several lives were lost this past summer in the wildfires in Colorado, because people did not have land lines and did not get the call to evacuate their homes.  Also, some emergency services available to residents also rely on your use of a land line when you call 911.  Some cities do not have GPS capability in finding out where you are when you call in an emergency on your cell phone (you have to be able to tell them where you are).  In terminating your land line, some of that lost functionality can be recovered by signing up for alerts from weather services or registering additional information with your city’s emergency services department.

The City of Westminster, where I am located, estimates that “more than 70 percent of 911 calls are made on mobile devices, making it difficult for emergency workers to determine the exact location of the call”.  Westminster has a service called “Smart 911”.  Citizens of Westminster are encouraged to sign up for the service and create a safety profile for their household.  The information you give is secure and kept private, and you can provide as much or as little information as you like.  With the service, you can describe the layout of your home, give medical information that might be needed in an emergency, give information on your vehicles, your family members and even your pets that might be relevant in case of emergency.

Smart 911 is supported by advocacy groups for people with autism, diabetes, epilepsy, hearing problems and people who are elderly.  For more information or to sign up for the “Smart 911” program, Westminster residents can visit www.smart911.com.  If you do not live in Westminster, Colorado, you will need to check with your city to see what the potential consequences are to not having a land line.

To sum up, although using only cellphones can be so much more convenient in some ways, something is lost at the “end of the line”- something valuable, that could literally be a matter of life and death.  For every technological convenience, there seems to be some kind of “equal and opposite” inconvenience at work behind the scenes.  To benefit from the cost savings of “cutting the cord” on the land line, I had to spend the time and effort to find other ways to compensate for the lost functionality and convenience. And I am not sure that doing all of those other things really replaced all the side benefits of the land line.

If you are thinking of discontinuing your land line service, or if you have already done so, I hope you will remember the “old timey” land line as fondly as I do.  Especially look into any lost safety services like those mentioned in item #4.  Looking at that list again, I think I want my land line back…

 

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