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April 4, 2016

Don't Hang Up Yet

We used to call it the phone. The wire was connected to a building, and the phone (even with a cordless receiver) could be used only at one location.

Now we call it the landline, to differentiate it from the real phone, the one we carry at all times, the one that allows us to call and be called no matter where we are.

Landlines are disappearing, as more people realize that a mobile phone is the only phone they need. Younger people, many of whom can't remember a time without mobile phones, don't even consider landlines.

I haven't dropped my landline yet, but the day is coming. Still, I was a bit surprised when my mother, now in her late eighties, decided to give up her landline and go mobile-only.

There didn't seem to be a downside. Mom could take the phone with her wherever she went. Although these days her excursions consist mostly of the dining hall in her "independent living" facility, doctor appointments, and the occasional lunch out with a visiting relative, the ability for her to call or be called at all times and places seemed like a good idea.

The reality was not so good. Soon, we found that we were calling and calling without getting any answer. There was no point in leaving a message. When she had a landline, Mom had an answering machine that she increasingly had trouble using. She never mastered voice mail, and she couldn't learn to pick up messages on her cell phone. We had to call the administrative office in her building and ask them to check on her and let her know that family members were trying to reach her.

Mom thought nobody was calling her. The problem was that she couldn't hear the phone most of the time. Sometimes she forgot to charge it. Other times, the sound was muffled because the phone was in her purse. Sometimes she put it face down on a soft surface and it got caught between the sofa cushions. Again, muffled. Then, at some point, she had pushed the button that muted the ringer.

Not only that, but we had forgotten that her Life Alert equipment only works with a landline.

So, my brother made an appointment with the phone company and got Mom set up with a new landline. The mobile number was cancelled, and everything went back to normal.

As much as we love our mobile devices, there are still some good arguments in favor of the old-fashioned home phone, especially for older folks.
  • The design of a mobile device may make it awkward to hold while talking, especially for people with arthritis or other conditions.
  • The interface is usually small, which makes it hard for those with vision problems. (There are some phones designed with bigger buttons to address this issue.)
  • People with cognitive impairments, even when mild, may have difficult learning to use a new device.
  • The sound quality on mobile phones is inconsistent and often not nearly as clear as a landline.
  • It's easy to lose a mobile phone.
  • With mobile phones, battery life can be a problem, and people don't always remember to charge them.
  • Some services, like alarm systems, may require a landline.
  • Because the landline is connected to an address, firefighters and other emergency workers know exactly where to go.
  • Sometimes people are just more comfortable and competent with familiar things.


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