Abandoning Our 40-year-old Landline

So we changed internet providers this month, as Centurylink has strung fiber through the neighborhood and began offering killer deals in competition with Comcast.  Collateral damage in the process: our landline phone number, which we first acquired from Pacific Northwest Bell in 1975.

We could have included it in our package, but for the last 5 years or so, we’ve just used it as a sponge to absorb solicitor calls, almost never actually answering.  We’ve switched all our important communication to our cell numbers.

One problem with this might be that more solicitor calls start raining down on our cell numbers, but I might just ameliorate that by continuing to cite the old landline number when whoring around the internet.

But my larger angst about losing that phone number is its historical and sentimental significance.  The first thing to come to mind is the physical, sort of bricks-and-mortar history.  The number first took up residence in a yellow rotary-dial phone which we rented from PNB, and resided there until the early 80s, when I needed touch-tone capability in order to use a 1200-baud modem to support clients and tap into the nascent Internet.  This required dumping the rotary-dial in favor of a touch-tone model (still rented from PNB) and upgrading our line service to “digital”.

Eventually, in the late 80s, we quit renting from PNB and acquired a cordless model.  We also, owing to the burgeoning demand for bandwidth from a) our son’s internet and bulletin board participation and b) my increasing requirement to do online software support, signed on for a second landline and phone number.  In theory, this should have resolved our bandwidth competition, except that our son took to signing on to bulletin boards with one of our lines whilst engaging in long-term voice communication on the other line with the same person he was engaging on the bulletin board.  Broadband internet couldn’t have found our house soon enough (and eventually did.)

But that’s just the bricks-and-mortar story.  My nostalgia for the phone number I’m forfeiting is more cerebral and perhaps emotional.  So many significant life events pulsed through the copper wire that struck the northwest corner of our house and found its way inside to a prosaic, non-ringtone, ring, especially because the bulk of our families lived in the midwest:

  • so many Christmases, New Year’s, birthday greetings
  • celebrating Buckeye victories, and lamenting Buckeye losses
  • the death of our wedding’s best man.  I still remember my grandmother delivering the news, while the aroma of fresh-cut sweet peas wafted through the room
  • calling to tell my parents, and then my grandparents of our son’s arrival.  Anecdote: Both my grandfather and father were named Philip, as was I, and when I conveyed our son’s (non-Philip) name to my grandmother, the venerable phone line was silent for quite a few ticks
  • the deaths of my grandparents in the mid-80s, and my last conversation with my grandmother before the surgery that she didn’t survive
  • the wonder of making a phone call and having a pizza arrive at my door
  • conversations of our son’s that we were not privy to, but were likely fraught with love, growth, deception, friendship, devastation, redemption
  • job acceptances, and rejections
  • the nurturing of those first clumsy, inexpert, messy flirtations with the internet and cybercommunication

This event feels a little like losing a family member, a little like physically changing residence and a little like quietly abandoning a friendship that was vital for so much of my life but whose usefulness and relevance has severely dissipated in the last 5 years.  I can still hear clearly the tone and timbre of dear people long dead that this antiquated technology delivered to my ears, and sometimes wonder if, listening really intently, I could detect snippets of those conversations in overtones ricocheting around the copper alloy.  But I’m entering the season of letting things go, and I’m sure this will prove to be one of the least painful.


  1. John:

    When we moved to Hot Springs Village, we toyed with abandoning our landline, but our ISP offered such a low cost we opted to take it. Now, the landline is like yours, serving as a magnet for merchants hungry to reach into my pocket. I suspect you will find its loss painless; those memories of copper-wire-communication will outlive memories of solicitors attempting to interrupt dinner.

  2. Brian:

    I wish I could join you in severing ties with the physical (and natal like) cord, but alas I can not since my internet accesses is controlled by a monopoly granted to the local phone company, no land line, no internet access. Of course I could go the satellite internet route, but it is just too much hassle so it stays. But I remember back to my Columbus days and the old phone number Broadway 4 0059, before digital, before area codes, back when we had a two party line and you had to be careful when picking up the phone and actually “dialing” a number, not punching buttons.

  3. Hi, Phil.

    John, how you get telemarketers to stop calling is to turn off the answering machine. After about a week or so, they stop calling. ;-)

  4. We still have a landline and actually prefer it to our iPhone. We are not particularly attached to a phone number, as you have seen how many times we have moved over the years. But we can’t seem to adopt the cell phone as our means of telephone communication. The only time we use it is when we are on the road. I think we like being somewhat disconnected. My mom and brothers only use landlines and don’t have smartphones at all. It’s a technology that both connects to and disconnects us from the world.

  5. Phil:

    John - hoping I can just lay low and avoid them. I think there’s still some gentleman’s agreement about not spamming cell phone numbers? I’ll soon know..

    Brian - I completely forgot my Columbus numbers. But I remember my 3 years in Stradley Hall when, if dialing out, I’d have to buzz the downstairs switchboard and ask for an “outside line”; receiving a call, the switchboard would dial my room, and I’d have to run down the hall to accept the call. When I was a kid, our first phone number was LE (for Lenox) 4565, and it was a party line. When they added the 7th digit, it turned into OX (for Oxford) 3-4565. You had to ask for a long-distance call.

    Robin - Yeah, that would simplify life quite a bit. But I’ve drunk the digital Kool-Aid for a while, and Mrs. Perils actually got her first Smartphone a month or so ago. Communication with our kid is episodic, but a Smartphone is the price of entry.

  6. There is this connection with landline that I feel too. My parents one is still intact and if I have to ever call them, the numbers can hit the keypad faster than I can search favorites to dial.

  7. I have very limited, but very fond memories of having a landline - mostly the endless conversations with my friends during my teens. That was a different experience altogether. This post brought back some of those memories. :)

  8. I still have a landline and I love the fact that I try and recall numbers from memory instead of just swiping my finger on a smartphone :) I can understand the feeling of loss though that you must have :)

  9. Margaret:

    Since my cell phone gets not-so-great reception inside my house, I need to keep my landline. It’s also better quality when I talk to my daughter in Senegal. Cell to cell is miserable. I notice that you reference Tulas; do you still play there? One of the music teachers at my school performs there too. Small world. :)

  10. Phil:

    Shantala and Shailaja - my sentimental attachment to the landline has dissipated a lot over the last few years, as it carries fewer and fewer meaningful calls, and answering it now guarantees the soul-sucking experience of dealing with a solicitor.

    Margaret - my swing band has played Tula’s 3 or 4 times over the last 5 years. We’re not regulars, and we only get time slots when professional musicians are certain to be fast asleep. Still, it’s fun to play in a dark venue, with cocktail glasses clinking and where dna traces of jazz greats could be found in the green room

  11. Phil:

    Parul - I’m pretty sure that my mom was my last voluntary interlocutor on the land line. I had her on our cell phone family plan, but, whether from habit or memory glitch or merely nostalgia, she would sometimes dial the old number.

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