The Silicon Valley Voice

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So You Think You Don’t Need a Landline…

A friend of mine recently told me, “I keep my landline so I can call my cell phone when I lose it.”

It’s an amusing take on “the way we live now” and the increasingly unclear reasons for keeping a conventional landline telephone. But shortly after that conversation I had a real lesson in the reasons to keep a landline. It was related to Hurricane Sandy, but not in the way you’re probably thinking.

I was in upstate New York, planning to be back in California on Sunday, the day before the latest “storm of the century” was slated to hit the east coast. Encouraged by the airlines’ reports of on-time flights, I figured I would get out of Dodge ahead of Frankenstorm. That optimism turned out to be unwarranted on Sunday morning.


The Binghamton airport was socked in by fog, and my plane was cancelled. I wasn’t alone in having my travel plans disrupted by Sandy that morning. The governor of New York was supposed to visit Binghamton, but was unable to land.

Fate pointed the way. Rather than join the hell-bent-to-be-stranded crowd renting cars to drive to larger airports, I acquiesced to riding out Sandy in upstate New York.

Fortunately I had a place to stay with my father-in-law, where the previous day I made sure that the house was stocked up with D batteries – which I found at Toys R Us after the obvious sources sold out – flashlights, water, canned food, and liquor.

And that’s when the touchscreen on my state-of-the-art smartphone died.

So I called Sprint. On my father-in-law’s 1955 Bell System telephone. A 1955 rotary telephone in the then-exciting and new color, red.

Now, you can say that the Bell Company was not leading edge when it came to consumer devices, except insofar as it benefited Bell’s bottom line.

But one thing the “phone company” understood was consumer expectations: When you pick it up, it works. Which is why a 58 year-old device outperforms a 14 month-old device when it comes to the central function of a telephone.

Sprint directed me to QSR Wireless in Vestal, NY, where the technician – a saint! – said that even though the phone was “shot,” he could replace enough of it to get me through the next few weeks. Which he did. And did so in about half and hour. (The other lesson in this is the importance of people who can make “the next big thing” actually work, rather than just promoting it.)

And that’s why you still need a landline: When you absolutely, positively need to make a phone call.


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