This week I made a change of monumental personal proportions. With that said, it was long overdue and probably would seem insignificant to anyone under 40. What did I do? I got rid of my landline phone.
When I was growing up a hardwired phone was considered essential, and it was an expensive essential at that. My home had a single, black rotary phone. Borning in its simple functionality. In those days phones were controlled by the powerful AT&T, which was essentially a monopoly.
Calling outside a limited “zone” meant an upcharge. Calling long distance was extremely expensive. Add-ons to your phone had to be purchased from AT&T at exorbitant prices. No mere mortal could afford an answering machine.
By the 1970s AT&T was forced to loosen its grip. Third party companies were allowed (by law) to connect with AT&T phone lines, and suddenly there was a tsunami of designer phones, answering machines, and other telephonic gadgets at reasonable costs. Ma Bell still had a stranglehold on infrastructure and charged accordingly. Long distance calls were still only made on very special occasions in my household; every second measured with no calls to exceed 10 minutes.
This all changed with the advent of the cellphone. My first one was a Panasonic box phone. I purchased it for almost $2000 in 1987; I was charged ten cents for every minute of airtime. The Panasonic was the size of a cigar box and had a separate handset that pulled out from the case. It had a giant gel type battery to power its circuitry, and the combination weighed so much that I had to use a shoulder strap to carry it. Even so, it was a miraculous invention, so amazing that people would stop me on the street and ask me what it was. “Can you make phone calls from that?” They would ask in awe and amazement.
Fast forward a decade, and what was novel became commonplace. Almost everyone had a cellphone. Fast forward another ten years and the world was introduced to the first iPhone. The iPhone not only changed an industry, but it also changed our culture. It was the first “smartphone” designed for people, not businesses. It was cool. It was a status symbol. Everyone wanted one.
Smartphones are now commonplace. Common with the affluent suburbanites where I live. Common with the poor folks that I treat in Rockford. Common in third world countries where it is more usual to have a cell phone than hot running water. Now that most people have their own “personal communication device,” the once-essential landline has become a dinosaur technology.
When I was active in my private practice, I kept the landline as an emergency backup. Our hardwired phone had multiple extensions in my home. I didn’t have to have my cell phone velcroed to my hip at all times as my answering service was instructed to ring the house phone at night. The landline also served as a central hub. The place where we would get reminders of doctor’s visits. The place where banks would call if they suspected fraudulent activity on our credit cards. The place where we would get our robo calls from our kid’s school when there was a snow day.
Every month I paid for the phone and the extra, but necessary services. Extra cost for voicemail, and the increasingly important caller ID.
Over the years our phone calls changed. The majority of the real calls came to us by our cell phones, but that didn’t stop our landline from being used. There was an endless number of calls from sellers, politicians, charities, and random spoofed numbers that implied that they were coming from down the block, rather than across the world. These nuisance calls become ever more prevalent, and ever more aggressive. If I didn’t pick up a call, the caller would call again and again. Calls during dinner time, calls late at night, calls early in the morning. Some telemarketers became so aggressive that I elected to spend over a hundred dollars to buy a “call blocker,” a device designed to intercept unwanted calls and hang up on them.
The landline had gone from necessary, to a backup, to an annoyance. It was time to go.
I retired at the end of 2017, and I planned to do a technology purging by the end of January 2018. Not only was I going to get rid of the landline, but also my cable TV, and my unreliable internet service.
January came and went, as did February. I wondered what was holding me back from making a simple cancellation call. As with most personal roadblocks, I started to explore what was going on.
Part of the problem centered on the fact that I had had a regular phone for so long that on a subconscious level it did seem like a necessity, even though I knew that this was no longer the case. Part of the problem centered on the fact that eliminating the landline would be an indicator that my private practice was over. Part of the problem was my fear that I would make a mistake. Since our phone, internet, and cable were all from the same provider, a mistake would leave us disconnected and technologically dead in the water. This last point resonated true. It was the main reason that I was not pulling the plug. Now that I knew what was stopping me, it was time to come up with a solution.
The solution was simple. Instead of starting one provider and ending another in a precision one-two punch, I would allow for an overlap. I would only cancel my old services once my new internet connection was in place and working to my satisfaction.
I know that this sounds obvious, but I had been thinking rigidly, and I assumed that my lack of action was because of laziness. I had to understand the “why,” before I could come up with the “how.”
You may ask why I’m writing about a utility cancellation. Like most things that I write about, there is a broader reason. How often do we get stuck continuing to do things that are not in our best interest? How often do we get stuck not making a change, when doing so would make our lives better? Could there be reasons for our actions that go beyond laziness? Have we thought about alternative way to think about a solution? Have we considered asking someone trusted if they had any thoughts on a solution? My phone issue illustrates that a little time and flexibility can sometimes turn the impossible into the possible. The same process applies to a bad relationship, a terrible job, or damaging behavior.
So often it is the little things in life that make the biggest difference. Small annoyances are like dealing with a cloud of gnats. Singularly, they have little impact. Cumulatively, they can bring us down.