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Many Older Americans Reluctant To Give Up Landlines

When it comes to technology, many older Americans still choose their landlines over cell phones.

Some of us are latecomers to technology. Others never make the leap or maybe leap part of the way. I guess it really is hard at times to teach an old dog a new trick. That includes some of us when it comes to using cell phones and giving up use of our landlines.

For many years I refused to even own a cell phone, preferring my home landline and hard-wired phone at my office. If I didn’t have a cell phone, I thought, no one could bother me if I didn’t want to be bothered or take me away from what I was doing at the time. I liked the invisibility.

Family medical emergencies and caring for my brother and mom meant I needed a phone to take care of their needs and coordinate appointments and contact family members and relatives. I borrowed my brother’s old Nokia phone when I took my mom to an appointment to UCLA Medical Center. I needed to make a call, but I didn’t even know how to use it. Embarrassed, I asked a student to show me how. I graduated to a flip phone I kept until the antenna broke off and my brother recently bought me an iPhone.

Stop snickering, I’m hardly alone.

I had two childhood friends visit me in Las Vegas for March Madness, and they continue to be behind even me in adapting to technology.

My buddy John has a cell phone but forget about him texting you. He doesn’t know how and doesn’t want to learn. The one time I got a text from his phone, someone else was using it.

My friend Don, a high school teacher, doesn’t own a cell phone and that makes it difficult to reach him anytime any one of us are trying to track him down. I told him to at least bring his wife’s cell phone with him to Vegas so we can reach him for an airport pickup or dinner plans. He did. The problem is he only knows how to make calls on the phone but not how to answer it.

It’s not like my friends and I are that far removed from technology growing up, although it would have been great to have cell phone text messaging when we organized our regular ball games as kids. We’re in our early 50s.

My buddy Jimmy, who’s in his 70s, didn’t grow up using a cell phone and didn’t want one. I suggested he needed one in case of emergencies and once he got it showed him all the apps he could use to get sports scores of his favorite New England sports teams.


Yes, it took a while and he had to be schooled, but even I can load apps, but forget about every other function on my iPhone. I got lectured at the phone store for not backing up my phone. Who knew you had to back anything up?

For some of us, I guess we’re just intimidated by technology. Others like my friend Jimmy, they just don’t like spending money. All of us still have landlines, but my friends and I are bucking the trend of society as a whole.

The number of residential landlines with phone carriers was at 142.8 million in 2001 but dropped to 44.5 million by the end of 2012, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Landline usage is just below 15 percent of the cellphone usage in homes. There are more than 300 million cell phone subscribers nationwide.

The most recent numbers from a survey of the Centers for Disease Control show how cell phones are becoming more pervasive even though some of us are slow to adapt. Two in five American homes had only wireless phones, compared to 25 percent in 2009. In 2003, for example, fewer than 5 percent of homes had ditched landlines for mobile phones, the CDC reported. In addition, one in six received nearly all of their calls on wireless even though they had landlines.

As you would expect, cell phones are popular with the younger generation who enjoy the texting that goes with it. The largest category with cell phones at nearly two thirds was adults 25 to 29. Nearly 30 percent of those aged 45 to 64 had wireless only and 12.6 percent of those 65 and older had wireless only households, the CDC reported.

Experts say many households keep landlines if they utilize home security systems that are tied in with them. Others use them for their fax machines and others as a backup in case their cellphone batteries die.

Jo Anne, the 73-year-old mom of a friend, says she no longer needs a landline but isn’t ready to drop it. She finally got a cell phone a few years back and likes it because it saves on the monthly long-distance bill she was paying to call family and friends.

She isn’t ready to cut the cord yet and one reason is she likes a phone with a cord. She says she doesn’t always remember where she puts her cell phone and that the $25 a month she pays for the landline is worth it for appointments and reservations and to talk to local friends.

My daughter keeps asking me if I need the landline, and I question myself why I don’t get rid of it, but I guess it’s just being old fashioned,” Jo Anne says. “The bill’s only $25, and I like having it around. It just gives me a sense of security.

Adults living in the Northeast were more likely to favor landlines over cell phones. Only 27 percent had wireless only households. That compares to 40 percent in the Midwest, 42 percent in the South and 39 percent in the West.

Among states with the highest percentage of adults with wireless-only households are: Idaho, 52; Arkansas, 49; Mississippi, 49; Utah 47; Texas, 45; Colorado, 42; Iowa, 42; Kansas, 42; Arizona, 41; Missouri, 41; Florida, 40 and California was 33 percent. New Jersey had the lowest percentage at 19 percent, followed by New York at 24 percent.

What would make Jo Anne give up her landline-enduring what she did as a child growing up in California in the early 1950s.

We had party lines back then,” Jones said. “There might be eight parties (sharing one phone line). You would pick it up and someone would be talking on it. I wasn’t allowed to listen, but I couldn’t help it.

I may eventually give up my landline one day, but first I have more pressing matters. Can someone—anyone—help me stop my VCR from flashing 12:00?

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