Opinion: Considering the telephone


Commentary by Ward Degler

We still have a landline – a telephone that plugs into the wall. A lot of people have dropped their landlines, depending entirely on their cell phones.

My wife insisted on keeping our landline because it is the means by which most of our friends and family know how to contact us. And vice versa.

A lot has changed in the telephone world. We no longer get bulky telephone directories. We still cling to one that’s 10 years old. I think the cover has come off.

It wasn’t too long ago that people could install a phone in every room. That happened after Ma Bell disengaged herself from ownership of our phones. Before then, the phone company owned your telephone and it was rare for anyone to have more than one.

Many years ago, we had party lines, where six or seven people shared a line.

And there was always one person who listened in on your conversations. Of course, if you needed to make an emergency call, you would have to ask the person on the line to hang up.

Earlier, we had operators. You had to ask the operator to connect you with the person you wished to call. In small towns, you simply asked her to connect you with Sam Jones or Florence Wimple.

For long distance, you started with your local operator. You gave her the number you wished to speak to. And then you waited. She had to access a line to that number. Sometimes it took an hour or more.

Even earlier, we had phones with a crank – big, bulky wooden cases that mounted on the wall. It was a party line and everybody had their own ring. Ours was two longs and a short. 

There are overpowering arguments in favor of the landline vs the cell phone. For one, you never have to charge it. For another, you don’t have to carry it with you. There can be a hard-wired phone in every room of the house. And third, it is not susceptible to the failures that can plague electronics. How many times has your computer stopped working recently?

I imagine landlines will continue to dwindle. But, if your cell phone service fails, it’s good to know a neighbor that has one.