USA - The Loss of the Telephone Landline

Arno Froese

According to the federal government, the majority of American homes now use cellphones exclusively. “We don’t even have a landline anymore,” people began to say proudly as the new millennium progressed. But this came with a quieter, secondary loss—the loss of the shared social space of the family landline.

“The shared family phone served as an anchor for home,” says Luke Fernandez, a visiting computer-science professor at Weber State University and a co-author of Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Feelings About Technology, From the Telegraph to Twitter. “Home is where you could be reached, and where you needed to go to pick up your messages.” With smartphones, Fernandez says, “we have gained mobility and privacy. But the value of the home has been diminished, as has its capacity to guide and monitor family behavior and perhaps bind families more closely together.”

Cellphones, which came on the market in the ’80s and gained popularity in the ’90s, rendered all of this obsolete as they displaced landlines. When kids today call “home,” they may actually be calling one parent and bypassing the other; friends and bosses and telemarketers (if they get through) usually reach exactly the person they are hoping to speak with. Who will be on the other end of the line is no longer a mystery.

What’s more, the calls, texts, and emails that pass through cellphones (and computers and tablets) can now be kept private from family members. “It keeps everybody separate in their own little techno-cocoons,” says Larry Rosen, a retired psychology professor at California State University at Dominguez Hills.

These days, this dynamic is also often reversed. A shared family phone meant that kids overheard some of their parents’ conversations, providing a window into their relationships, but today, children frequently see a parent silently staring at a screen, fingers tapping, occasionally furrowing a brow or chuckling. “Sometimes there are people that I’ve never even heard of that you’re texting,” my 11-year old once told me. Sherry Turkle, a professor at MIT and the author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, has described this as “the new silences of family life.”

“Nobody had separation-anxiety issues when they walked out of the house without their [landline] phone,” says Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and a co-author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. “Nobody used to say that their princess phone was their life. It’s not your phone—it’s the news, it’s YouTube, it’s your bank account, it’s shopping … You can engage in every aspect of your life, and some of that is wonderful.”

Even in its infancy, the telephone wasn’t always celebrated. Its rise prompted a London editor in the late 19th century to ask, “What will become of the privacy of life? What will become of the sanctity of the domestic hearth?” Some viewed the phone as supernatural (they struggled to understand how sound could travel through wire) or impractical (aboveground phone lines in the early days were often highly obtrusive). When people first shouted into phones, they felt awkward, as though they were performing., 12 December 2019

Arno's commentary

This is just another step toward the annihilation of the biblical family unit. The cellphone is a fantastic and very helpful instrument for communication. Forgot something on your shopping list? The cell phone instantly communicates the information needed. Some say it is an evil instrument; this was also stated in the early days after the invention of the radio, and later television. Today, it’s virtually unthinkable for a household not to have these communication devices; it’s just a must. 

Years ago, this writer took his wife to a special eye doctor. Quickly, our son Joel programmed the address into our vehicle’s navigation system, which guided us precisely to the door of the doctor. Three months later, we thought we knew the address and how to get there, but we were totally lost and actually missed the appointment. We did not know how to use the system. For young people, it’s not an issue. Any place, anywhere in the world can easily be located on a mobile phone.

We also realize that electronic or digital based communication can be stored virtually indefinitely; thus, in the new world—or we may call it Antichrist’s global society—no one will be able to hide anything. Every step of the way, every word spoken or written can be used against any person. When Antichrist has the upper hand, there will be no escape.

As Christians, we are in the world but not of this world. We do well to heed Colossians 3:16: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Arno Froese is the executive director of Midnight Call Ministries and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed prophetic magazines Midnight Call and News From Israel. He has authored a number of well-received books, and has sponsored many prophecy conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Israel. His extensive travels have contributed to his keen insight into Bible prophecy, as he sees it from an international perspective.

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