September 23, 2010

Farewell Ma Bell

A good proportion of our lives are spent doing things out of habit.  We do things "because that's the way they've always been done", or we realize that there are better ways to do things, but we just don't want to expend the time and effort to do them, even though they may be easier on us in the long run.

Take the land line telephone for example.

If you've been around as long as I have, this was as much a part of your home when you were growing up as the refrigerator, the oven and indoor plumbing.  It was either perched on a decorative table in your home's entry way, or hanging on the kitchen wall.  Maybe even both.  I even remember the type of telephone that we had (there really weren't any choices) and the phone number.


The phone was always there.  It was the first purchase I made when I moved away from home and into my first apartment.  And whenever Jan and I moved, it was on the short list of hook-ups right along with gas, water and electricity.

Then, about 20 years ago, we became aware of the growing popularity of these new-fangled gadgets called "cell phones".  Although they were pretty awkward and clunky, they were pretty cool, so we bought two "bag phones" for our cars and used them occasionally.  The service was expensive, and the connection was  spotty at best, but as with most new technology, it got better and less expensive.

In fact, the technology became so much better, that we began to use our cell phones more than our land line phone.

Realizations sometimes creep up on you ... slowly.  One day, about 5 years ago, I was paying our monthly bills and as I opened our AT&T envelope, the thought crossed my mind that it was really a useless expense.  Seventy-plus dollars a month for the privilege of being interrupted at least five times an evening by junk calls. But, as soon as I paid the bill, I promptly forgot about it until the next month.

After a while, it became annoying.  I started to ask the question "Why do I still have this phone?" And as I think about it, maybe it was just sentimentality.  One day I called AT&T to see if I could find a package to lower my bill, and lo-and-behold ... "Yes" said the customer service agent.  "Why, I see that you're not using many features of the package you have."  And so I negotiated another package, for thirty dollars a month.  However, when my next bill came, new charges and federal and state taxes added up to save me a whopping five dollars a month over the previous bill.  Well played AT&T ... well played.

Unbelievably, to me anyway, three more years went by with the same shopworn act being played out.  Rob gets phone bill, Rob pays phone bill, Rob gets steamed, Rob promptly forgets about phone bill until the next month. Repeat process ad infinitum.

Until last Monday.

Last Monday, I came home from work, called AT&T, sat on hold for one hour and 45 minutes ... and cancelled my phone service.  And as expected, there was much dramatic hand wringing on the part of the customer service agent.  "But sir, you've been with us since 1977!" This was followed by the "deal" ploy.  A lower rate package with coupons!  When this angle failed, it was time for the heavy guns ... fear.  Your cell phone won't work when the electricity is out (huh?).  911 won't be able to find you.  You'll lose your cell phone and then what will you do?  Huh? ... Huh?

But my mind was made up.  The customer service agent and I said our fond farewells and a 58 year old bond fell to the wayside.  I had joined the growing ranks of "The Others" ... those without land line telephone service.

On Tuesday afternoon, I came home and picked up the telephone.  And there was no dial tone.  I disconnected our three phones and placed them in a box in the basement, where I'll run across them again one day, stare at them for a second or two, and then deposit them in the trash.

As we turned in Tuesday night, Jan mentioned to me how nice it had been to go a whole evening without being interrupted by any trash phone calls.

And it was good.


  1. Which has me wondering why we even have a land line. I never even answer the damn thing.

  2. You should totally write them a letter. Just sayin'.

    Oddly, after I was done reading that and about to leave a comment, my internet (courtesy of AT&T) cut out.

    I can remember my grandparents, who still used a rotary wall-mounted telephone in their kitchen up until about 8 years ago, still paid for its service and deposit charge. I think they got their $2 downpayment back though when they cancelled their home phone service altogether, so... yeah, that's good.

    I hate phones.