Saturday, January 23, 2010

One Ringy-Dingy

We've made the decision to do away with our landline. Is landline even a word? We're dumping our traditional phone service.

Like lots of households, we ended up with several cell phones and a traditional phone. My cell was a Lifeline account, which was dirt cheap but didn't give me all the services I need (I work with people all over the world, and sometimes the Internet isn't the best means of communication). Hubby is on ATT. We took a good look at our budget and got a family plan, which is affordable if a) I kill the Lifeline phone, a no brainer, b) get whatever "free-ish" phone is on special, and c) we turn off our landline phone.

Turning off the landline makes me nervous, and I can't figure out why. It's not like we use it a lot, or that there's an advantage to it now that we have Nationwide serivce (every call is a local call, isn't that cool?). I might keep it if it were still an analog phone, which doesn't require power to function, but they're all digital now.

I feel like we're at the mercy of our phones. It's been a slow evolution, but I think phones are actually part of some alien plot to condition us to our new masters. Probably the cats, now that I think of it.

Does anyone remember when you'd call someone and sometimes no one would answer? It'd ring and ring and ring, and you'd assume no one was home and try again later. There were no answering machines, voice mail, or automated systems to help you if no one was there, and no caller ID to help whomever you were calling to avoid you. We were programmed with a Pavlovian response: if the phone rang, you jumped up and answered it. On the other hand, if you chose to ignore the ringing, it was just a matter of time until it stopped. If you had an emergency and needed to wake someone up, you could let it ring until they got up, cursing that someone had better be dying at this time of night to get them out of bed.

Then came answering machines, which were pretty cool. Not only would it take a message for you, but you could screen your calls. But if you weren't fast when you jumped up to answer the phone, it would be answered for you. If you didn't want to get up and see who was dying at 3am the machine would answer it, but it would beep at you until you got up and listened to your message.

Next we had cordless phones, and were no longer restricted to talking in one place (unless you were lucky enough to have the 30-foot phone coiled cord, which was guaranteed to be tied in knots). We could multi-task! You could talk on the phone and change the baby, wash the dishes, or use the bathroom. How efficient!

With the advent of computerized phone systems we got voice mail. Now if you didn't want to roll over and answer the cordless phone you left on your bedside table you could have it go straight to voice mail and have a peaceful night's sleep, never knowing that you were needed at the hospital because your cousin was having an emergency appendectomy. But instead of a machine that beeped politely (but insistently) when you had a message, the only clue you'd have was the broken dial tone you heard when you picked up the phone. To check for messages you were constantly picking up the phone. Then you had to dial and navigate through a menu to hear your messages instead of just pushing "play".

Add to all that convenience mobile or cellular phones. Now we can have all those benefits anywhere we go! In the car, at the store, in the sauna, or hiking through a national park, you won't miss that call from Aunt Edna wanting your recipe for the crab dip. It doesn't even have to sound like a phone ringing any more. Everywhere you go it's a symphonic medley of music from all genres, nicely masking the Muzak. No one knows what their personal ring tone actually is: walk through any well-populated area, play a snatch of random music and watch 50% of the people grab for their phones to see if it's for them.

Our Pavlovian response to phones is stronger than ever. We answer our phones in our cars, in our bathrooms, at our kids' schools, and in movie theaters. It has to be a conditioned response: everyone has caller ID these days, so you can probably tell if it's an emergency or not. Seriously, you do not need to answer your phone during your annual physical, yet turning the phone off or setting it on vibrate seems physically painful for some people.

Obviously our alien masters the cats have conditioned me so well that getting rid of the physical landline phone in my home is causing me psychological pain. I can do it. I know I can.

As soon as I feed the cat. Call me.

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