When the new telephone directories arrived at the office a few months ago, I flipped through a copy and discovered — to my great consternation — that I’m listed.
It doesn’t bother me that you can rifle through the phone book and find my name. My objection is rooted not in privacy, but in practicality. When you punch in the corresponding digits and expect to reach me, you’re as likely to converse with the late Alexander Graham Bell as talk to yours truly.
The seven digits listed across from my name and address comprise my phone number in only the most technical sense. It’s a number that Embarq gave me when I signed up for high-speed Internet access through a DSL, or direct subscriber line, connection.
Though some phone companies offer “naked DSL” that doesn’t require basic landline telephone service, Embarq’s sales reps told me I needed phone service in order to get online.
A traditional home phone, for me, is about as practical as a telegraph. I work weird hours and am rarely at home to receive calls. When I return from work, it’s usually too late at night to return voicemail messages.
My trusty cell phone is my lifeline to the world. It’s permanently set to vibrate — no insufferably silly ringtones for me, thanks — and it’s clipped to my pocket every waking moment.
I’m more throwback than technophile. I don’t text message, I don’t browse the Internet or watch music videos on my phone, and though I’ll admit to occasionally snapping a blurry camera phone photo, I’ve never uploaded or e-mailed one. To me, this high-tech handset is nothing more than a phone away from home.
As society becomes increasingly mobile, as the financial pinch throttling the middle class forces many to work longer hours and hold down two or more jobs, and as cell phone technology further evolves, will there be a day when the traditional landline is obsolete?
I would say it’s here already — at least for me. I have a home phone I’m never home to use.
On the rare occasions I’ve been around to hear the digitized bell tolling, the callers have been telemarketers, pitchmen and a few confused folks who dialed the wrong number. It’s no wonder nobody calls me at home; I haven’t given out the number to a soul.
But I worry about my listing in the phone book. I imagine an acquaintance I’ve made through my work at the newspaper or maybe an old friend dialing those dead digits and interpreting my lack of response as an intentional slight.
I haven’t even recorded an outgoing message for my needless number’s voicemail account. And I’ve never checked the voicemail — I could have a trillion messages or zero.
Landlines won’t go extinct overnight, but as cell phone subscribers surpass their corded cousins in number, phone directories should include those of us whose primary phone is attached to their pocket or purse instead of an outlet.
If someone from the company that publishes the phone book had asked me to provide my main phone number, I would have gladly given out the correct seven-digit combination.
With more than 2 billion cell phone subscribers worldwide, why should the mobile-only be second-class citizens relegated to the ranks of the unlisted?
This selection was first published as an installment of the author’s column in the Havelock News. Since it was written, Friedman has moved to Gastonia, N.C., and he no longer has a landline telephone.
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