Monday, August 18, 2008

The Last Days of Telephones

As technology progresses, obsolete objects begin to appear increasingly anachronistic when we encounter them. This is happening now with things like full-size cathode-ray tube computer monitors, VCRs, and portable CD players. But perhaps the most striking and life changing example is the slow disappearance of landline telephones. If you’re in the U.S. and less than 30 years old or so, it’s likely that you rarely, if ever, use a landline phone. What’s more, when my generation has children, the concept of a phone that remains in the house will be totally foreign to them.

The Baby Boomer generation, however, will never give up their familiar landline phones, no matter how redundant they become. There are tens of millions of people who continue to pay for regular phone service, in addition to their mobile plan. Having a stationary phone that is physically connected to their house seems to be comforting in some way; it’s always on, and it always rings loud and clear. Cell phones can be misplaced, get set on silent unintentionally, or run out of batteries. Many Boomers are not accustomed to charging their phones daily, and bring it with them each morning is not as instinctive as it is with younger users.

As landline phones cease to be of use, it will be interesting to see where they end up. Unlike cell phones, they are not desired for donation to third world countries, since these nations never set up a telephone infrastructure in the first place, instead skipping straight to mobile phones. Assuming approximately 100 million households in the United States, and at least two phones per household (not to mention answering machines), we’re looking at around 200,000 tons of electronic waste. I can only hope someone figures out a solution to this byproduct of progress.

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