Goodbye Land Line

This week, we severed our final physical tie to the phone company. In favor of an all wireless tie to the same phone company. So, for the first time in my life, I don’t have a dial tone. It’s all just 0’s and 1’s across the ether now.

I remember so clearly when I got my own personal phone number. It was September of 1980, and I had just moved into my dormitory for freshman year (Northwestern University, Foster House, just down the block from the Technological Institute). Through some lucky twist of fate, I had won the lottery for a single room – an incredibly rare and valuable thing, especially for a Freshman. A glorious 8 x 12 foot room was mine, all mine. My own door, my own window, my own radiator… and my own phone jack.

After I got my keys and threw down my luggage, the first thing I did was go stand in line for my phone. A few months before I had opened my own bank account, but that was nothing compared to this. A phone! AT&T offered me an extravagant choice of models to choose from… a princess phone (!), a hang on the wall type, and the nice plain kind with a handset. And they were all push-button phones! Every phone in my house growing up had been a rotary dial phone; the only time I had used a push-button phone was in a phone booth.

I selected a moss-green unit, put down my deposit (in those days you didn’t buy a phone, you just borrowed it from the phone company), and half an hour later I plugged it in. I think my first phone call was to one of my aunts or uncles to let them know my new phone number… my parents and siblings were living in Korea at the time, and an international phone call was out of the question.

As the years went by, I went through many phones and many phone numbers. I continued to lease my phones from AT&T for several years after the court-ordered breakup, long after the time when you could buy a cheap telephone in any drug store. I just liked the nice solid feel. I had phones on the wall, phones shaped like pop culture objects, phones that made bizarre ringing noises. I got my first answering machine in 1983 – the first message left on it was: “Hi, Jon, this is Lenore. When the hell did you get this? Call me back.”

I got my first cell phone in 1993, after a car accident left me stranded on a residential stretch of Sunset Boulevard (the part past Westwood where it goes into Pacific Palisades). It was a huge Blaupunkt, with a leather case to carry it in and a long coiled cord with a cigarette plug on the end. It weighed about 2 pounds, as I recall. Cell service then was very spotty, and the battery would only last for about 30 minutes of talking before you had to plug it back in to charge it.

Since then, I’ve had flip phones, smart phones, candy bar phones, Motorolas, Nokias, Samsungs, and the first iPhone. I’ve had headsets both wired and bluetoothed. But what finally made me decide to yank the wire and go completely cellular was the iPhone 3G that I bought a month ago.

No, not because the phone is So Great That I Can’t Imagine Anything Else. Far from it. But the cost of cell phone service with high-speed data has now gotten so high that I can no longer justify duplicating my phone service over both a land line wire and over the air. With data, my cell phone plan is costing me almost $90.00 a month. My land-line phone with Super Duper Long Distance was costing me another $67 every month, and was used less and less.

The only thing standing in my way was the number itself. Our home phone number is (was) one of those great numbers that has a lot of the same numbers repeating, and is very easy to remember. We didn’t want to lose it. Our solution was to simply transfer the great home number to Frank’s cell phone. So, as of last Monday, our old home phone number is now Frank’s cell phone number. And my cell phone number is my only number.

My younger friends, colleagues and relatives have expressed surprise that I still even had a land line. Many folks under thirty that I’ve talked to have never had a wired phone, only cellular. And now, with the iPhone and other smart phones like it, phones have become the repository for email and web surfing as well. Within five years, I’m sure the cell phone and computer will merge together completely. Hardware designers, I have some ideas. Give me a call on my cell phone.

Isn’t it great living in the 21st century? At long last, I finally feel like I’m living in the future. Now when do I get my ticket to the wheel in space and my new spandex jacket?

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