Mondays with Mike: They’re smart but they’re not really phones

August 31, 2015 • Posted in Mike Knezovich, Mondays with Mike, Uncategorized by

Growing up, the telephone was central to my family’s daily life. In the early days we had what was known as a “party line.” Essentially, you shared a connection with other households—if you picked up, you might hear their conversation instead of a dial tone, and you’d have to hang up and check later.

phoneEventually, that ended, and we had our own dedicated line. I still remember our number. I also remember being aggravated that my mother, an elementary school teacher, would be on the phone endlessly. Some of it was her propensity to talk, but a lot of it was her being a good teacher—she made herself available to parents of her students, and they took full advantage.

I remember being home sick from the first grade, and my mom staying home with me. I was lying on the couch and we were watching As The World Turns and Walter Cronkite came on to announce that President Kennedy had been shot. A little later, we learned the president was dead, and my mom was on the phone with her mother. “And now we have that SOB Johnson,” I clearly recall her saying.

As I got older I would call my friends to arrange to do whatever we did back then. Sometimes we’d talk at length, though I can’t remember what we talked about. And I remember, staring at the phone, picking it up and putting it back down, until finally I mustered up the courage to dial and ask a girl out for a date.

When I went away to college, the phone calls to home, to high school friends who went to college elsewhere, were somewhat precious – they weren’t cheap. The same was true after I moved to Washington, D.C. to take my first job.

Today, I rarely have a real conversation on the phone. It’s usually a brief confirmation of some arrangement already communicated via text or email. Even at work, it’s the last resort—except for the painful modern phenomenon, the conference call.

Beth and I still have a land line. We kept it for all these years largely because Beth’s mom, Flo, had a hard time hearing via a cell connection.

That was partly age and compromised hearing. But, as this terrific article in The Atlantic explains, it was more because, well, cell phones stink at being phones.

I hope you’ll read the article—but in brief, the point is, as advanced as our smartphones are at digital stuff, they are a quantifiable step back in quality when it comes to voice transmission. For one, they don’t cover the full audio spectrum that we need for a conversation. For another, the connections aren’t nearly as reliable as old fashioned wire. And finally, something basic—they’re not full duplex, which means, in plain terms, that two parties can talk at the same time.

I don’t expect we’ll go back to land lines, and having long, heartfelt phone conversations. But the article was a reminder that often, when something is gained, something else is lost.

Monna Ray On August 31, 2015 at 11:48 am

You’re so right, Mike.


Marilee On August 31, 2015 at 8:56 pm

No wonder my kids prefer to text or FaceTime! New phones stink!? I remember TALKING for more than 30+ minutes… On the land line with the long cord. And hated when you got the busy signal. And yet the busy signal gave me time to pause…..something gained -something lost

Laura Gale On September 1, 2015 at 10:38 am

We are with you on this. Ed is a believer in land lines after 9/11. That morning, all the cell phones were jammed and he couldn’t find out where I was. Only the land lines worked and I was able to call him from a pay phone (remember those) at O’Hare. He was at our house in Atlanta.

bigdebby On September 1, 2015 at 4:55 pm

We converse daily, multiple posts sometimes, with our kids via text messages. We receive pics via text in real time, or close to real time! . We are closer than ever with the ecert day events that go on in the lives of our children and grandchildren. And FaceTime is the best. I think technology trumps the good ole days in this arena. Just MHO.

bigdebby On September 1, 2015 at 4:57 pm

Correction… Every day events!

bigdebby On September 1, 2015 at 5:08 pm

Landline you say? It is going the way of that dial phone some of us wistfully remember. And a whole bunch of different modes since the dial phone are long gone. In fact, I remember a phone at my grandparents’ summer home that did not have a dial at all…you just picked it up.

We are quite pleased with technology in this area of phone use; especially how it has helped my husband who went blind 35 years ago. He loves that it is so easy to be in touch, on a regular basis, with his kids.

Mike On September 2, 2015 at 10:03 am

Yeah, I agree that overall, it’s a good thing. Beth started using a talking computer back in the 80s, and it’s made an enormous difference. But as The Atlantic article explains well, when it comes to talking on the phone–today’s technology is demonstrably inferior.

Benita Black On September 2, 2015 at 9:47 am

After reading your piece, I flashed to my teen self with the dial phone and the extra-long curly cord secreting myself in the hall closet for privacy. Anther corollary to your essay: no teen ever has to get through the parent of their sweetheart on the phone, as in, “Hello, Mrs. Horowitz. This is Margie. Is Bobby there?” (Maybe that’s why they don’t know how to talk to grownups!)
We too have kept our landline phone. Can’t bear not to have a 212 number!

Mike On September 2, 2015 at 10:04 am

Benita, I forgot that part about negotiating the parents who picked up!

Benita Black On September 3, 2015 at 7:56 pm

Not to mention…the busy signal! Nobody can even imagine such a thing today!

ojdohertyJenny On September 3, 2015 at 10:59 am

Loved this post. I still have a landline, even though it’s an extra expense that I can’t really afford. I hate having long phone conversations on my mobile. It just isn’t the same.

Leave a Response