Don't Give Up the Home Phone!

There are those of us who were raised before the transformative digital age that we now hop, skip and keystroke through. Back in the day we thought the worldwide web was a global conspiracy, tablets were something you took with water and the only smart thing phones could do was dial.

The digital age is all binary, all zeros and ones, all numbers. Efficient, sure, but kind of bland. Not much flavor in just numbers.

In those pre-inflation days of yore when dollar stores were called dime stores, telephone numbers had actual names to anchor the five subservient digits that followed. These names were distinguishing words that gave character and sense of place. If you had a Riverside exchange in New York City, you lived in Manhattan's heavily European west side, just off the Hudson River. If your exchange was Humboldt, you were part of the Polish/Irish slice of Chicago's north side. In Los Angeles' lush Beverly Hills enclave, your exchange was Oleander which is a poisonous flower.

Sadly as the number of phones grew, the phone company's capacity to come up with new exchanges did not. Places were replaced by numbers-only beginning in 1958. Most of the country had adopted it completely by the late 1960s. By the 1980s, numbers ruled everywhere.

No doubt some millennial whippersnapper will ask why, if you have a cell, anyone needs a wired home phone. Okay, maybe one line for fax but an actual non-battery table-top phone -- no way. When something goes wrong, you have to call the phone company, go through their endless human-like voice prompts, schedule an appointment and stay home for hours which is sometimes like waiting for Godot. Companies like AT&T seem to be the only ones who profit from this setup -- oh, yes, and telemarketers.

So, maybe it does make sense to dump the home phone and embrace the freedom of talking wherever you may be -- even in the bathroom which has spawned one of the more regrettable offshoots of the digital age: flushing whilst chatting.

But wait, if we drill down a wee bit here, there is a pragmatic reason for not putting home-phone elimination on your to-do list. For your consideration:

The talk-time battery life for most cell phones is usualy under two hours. Let's say it's the end of a long day. You've been all over town, working the cell with calls, texts, emails and it's been in battery-draining standby-mode for many hours. You have 50 minutes of talk-time left.

You're in the car and have to call the home repair warranty company to come back and fix the air conditioner they repaired last week that doesn't work again this week.

Let's say you use up five minutes just navigating the company's many voice-prompts -- all of which may be recorded for quality assurance and none of which seem to cover "I need the guy who was here and said the unit was fixed but stopped working ten minutes after he left." You finally figure that 9 is the gateway to "existing claims." Battery time left: 40 minutes.

Oops, you just drove into a no-cell phone zone. Weak signal. Disconnect. Sorry. Subtract 5 minutes as you drive with one hand on the wheel, the other thumbing through the various prompts again. Finally, a working signal. Thirty-five minutes to go.

Then, those magic words: "Your call is important to us... we'll be with you shortly." "Shortly," of course, is an existential concept subject to interpretation.

By the time you've listen to the perky music and recorded apologies looped every 40 seconds and a reminder to "please stay on the line or visit our website at..." You and your battery have petered out.

This is when you realize an old fashioned, hard-wired, no battery, table-top, home phone is a necessity. Some day you will need to reach live person in business or government and your cell phone battery just won't cover it.

And if you still hanker for pre-digi days when local phone numbers had distinguishing names like Trafalger, Hudson or Butterfield, how about this: Most numbers on our keypads have corresponding letters -- #2 is also ABC, etc. Take a number like 323-0000. That could be FABulous 00000. Try it. It won't make your old home phone any smarter but it might add some character to the transformative and sometimes flavorless, binary, all zeros-and-ones, all numbers digital age.