Zoom is the hot technology of the last year to be sure. Covid made the word – Zoom – a household name. Many fundamental technologies from the past (telegraph, printing press, combustion engines, etc. are fading fast or have already left our zeitgeist. One of the best examples of the fading, older technologies in our life, is the near elimination of landlines.
According to Statista, only about 37% of American households still have landlines – phones provided by the local telcos that operate off the copper phone lines strung across the Nation. Of course, if you ask someone under 30 years old, they might ask what a landline is.
On the other hand, this author, well in to his sixth decade of life, not only has a landline, but can tell you why I have one and how they work.
I have a mobile phone, of course. In fact, like most households, there is one mobile phone for every person in our household. And yet, I have a landline for which I pay a monthly bill. But why? My nephews and nieces don’t have landlines. One of the few people in my family with a landline is my 94 year old mother, who even has problems making the wireless version of her landline work.
But many of those, myself included, who have a landline are very sensible in this decision. Landlines, as no doubt few folks know, have their “own energy,” their own electric power. The copper wires used in the telephone system, installed across
the Nation decades after the telephone was invented in 1876, transmit a tiny bit of electric power that allows the landlines to operate completely independent of the household electricity or the general electric grid. Without electric power to the house and the grid, your cellphone batteries die and the wireless home phone systems fail. But your landline lives on, pulsing away, using the technology that makes voices audible on the phone – the ability to produce and interpret sound waves over an electrical circuit.
When I think about earthquakes here in Los Angeles, I worry about being able to communicate with the outside world after a big disaster. In such a situation my landline phone is my go-to device because it will not be felled as quickly as cell towers in an earthquake. When the energy does occasionally go out at home, I gleefully walk to my hard-wired landline phone (conveniently hidden away in the guest room) to assure myself that there is a reason I have not joined the vast majority of Americans without a landline.
What technology will be disrupted next and perhaps driven to extinction from our current technology tableau? The TV set? No, we need it as the monitor to our Netflix NFLX -1.5%, YouTube, Disney+, Roku and many others. The combustion engine? Yes, it seems to be going the way of the dodo bird. The movie theatre? The robust amount of entertainment content available to us and the fear of crowds sitting together for hours, threaten the stability of the movie exhibition industry.
Everyone is deeply immersed in the technology of old and the technology of new. The landline is not the canary in the coal mine because it is not predicting lethal, imminent danger, but it is more like the radio and the train – we still have them and we still use them, but there is something about them that seems so last century.
Good bye landline! Hello to the next disruptor of personal communications – the messaging service. Today, according to my recent national survey of U.S. households, over 75% of the US population with connection to the Internet and/or mobile phone services, use a messaging service at least once a week. It is quite clear where this trend is headed because 91% of 18-34 year olds are using messaging services regularly, vs. only 56% of the over 55 year old age group.
Eventually the messaging service may well challenge the “phone” function of the smartphone. Messaging services not only offer text, but also robust voice services, free, over the Internet. And remember, your smartphone is also a TV.