If you don't get calls from me anymore, don't take it personally. I don't really call anyone, anymore. My husband jokes that the only time our home phone rings, it's either a telemarketer or someone over sixty. (Hi Mom!)
Although I am a Luddite in many aspects of embracing technology (just signed up for Netflix, the mail-in version) I like to think of myself as an early adopter when it comes to abandoning land lines and the pesky verbal conversation that they require.
It started in the early nineties, when I was a young singleton living far away from home for the first time. The phone would invariably ring every Saturday, around nine in the morning. I, along with my roommates, quickly learned that the caller could only be one person: my mother. Sometimes, she would call just to ask me about my job, whether I was eating enough, and if had enough money. Other times, she would vent her worries about my college-aged brother, who never answered his phone.
A career in television newsroom, which had the same ambient ringing noise as a PBS pledge drive, further cemented my aversion for the telephone. I grew weary of dialing others — furtively trying to arrange interviews. Answering the phone was even worse, for most calls involved 1) complaints about the station, 2) demands for coverage, or 3) lonely viewers who considered on-screen personnel among their closest friends. Ten years in this environment left me shell-shocked, ducking for cover at the sound of a ringing phone.
Then along came my children, who instinctively sense when their mother is having a phone conversation, and come clamoring for my undivided attention as soon as I pick up a handset. I eventually figured out my brother's system and started screening my calls.
"We never talk on the phone anymore," a lifelong friend commented after our twentieth high school reunion. "What happened?"
"It's not you," I lamely apologized. "I just don't talk on the phone anymore, period."
Of course, I do have telephone conversations sometimes: confirming my appointments or asking my husband to pick up food on the way home from work.
Email has replaced phone as the first line of communication. I can quietly think about what I want to say, and if there are kids screaming in the background, or if I get interrupted and can't to return to the conversation until late at night, nobody knows the difference.
Texting, I've learned this year, is also handy. It's more immediate than email, yet it doesn't entail all those awkward "Um,what are you doing?" or "Okay, then I guess I should be going" moments of telephoning. And pretty much everyone keeps their cell phone on their person at all times, so there's no annoying voicemail.
Which brings my husband to ask why we even need a landline anymore. We already discontinued our long-distance service, since the minimum cell plan already offers more minutes than we can possibly use. Taking another page out of my younger brother's book, my husband has been angling to discontinue our home phone service.
Why not? For starters, cell phones batteries go uncharged and die at the most inconvenient times. And why is it that I can hear the ringtone just fine in a quiet restaurant, but the sound gets lost in the constant din of our house? Then there's the safety issue. In many areas, 911 calls made from a cell phone are routed to a regional dispatch center, and the region may be much wider than you'd think, leading to delays in dispatching the closest ambulance or fire truck.
And then there's the kids. As I said before, most of our callers are either over 60 or telemarketers. The phone rang a few weeks ago:
Silence. Or the two-second delay of a telemarketer on auto-dial.
Muffled sounds. Or the heavy breathing of an obscene caller.
Just as I am about let this pervert have a piece of mind, I hear another voice in the background.
"Go ahead, say who you are."
"Hello? This is Benjamin. Can your kids come over to play?"