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Bring back the landline phone

One-third of Americans have given up their land lines. Is that such a good idea?

Not too long ago, I documented my decision to shift smartphones. It's rather amazing that I can get mileage out of such a basic decision. Sometimes my job amuses me. On a rather serious note, everything is not smooth sailing. I'm going to depart briefly from the Microsoft talk for this post.

Call quality on my cellphone is often dubious, a combination of the Bluetooth headset, AT&T's lousy coverage and living in a canyon surrounded by mountains. On more than one interview, people have said they could not hear me at all and it was a struggle to get through the interview. At this point, I am wedded to AT&T and even if Verizon had a Windows Phone 8 to my liking, it would cost a fortune to switch.

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Why I abandoned Windows Phone 8

As I grappled with these nuisances, I thought back to a little-covered report that came out during the holiday period, so most folks missed it. The Center for Disease Control issued some preliminary results from its National Health Interview Survey for 2012 and, among other stats, it looked at phone usage.

(You may be wondering why the CDC cares about this stat. It needs to know because alerts are often sent out via mass phone calls to citizens for things like outbreaks or immunization efforts. So it needs to know how to reach you.)

The survey found that 35.8% of American households no longer have any sort of hardwired telephone in their houses. They are exclusively wireless. Another 15% said they received "all or almost all calls on wireless telephones" despite also having a landline telephone.

Like most technological trends, this was generational. Six in ten adults aged 25 to 29 lived in households with only wireless telephones. Only 10.5% of those aged 65 and over were in wireless-only households.

I understand the appeal. We take our phones everywhere, so it makes sense to route all calls to the cell. With cellphones unlisted, the number of annoying telemarketer calls is far lower, although I still get some very odd texts every now and then. One recently offered me work as a movie extra.

Every now and then, we find our technological preferences going backwards. This happens either when the old technology had its pluses we forgot about or the new has serious deficiencies. Look at the resurrection of vinyl records lately. It's happened because digital music sounds like garbage, and audiophiles have noted for some time that vinyl sounds much more natural.

Another example, and this may sound silly, but I continue to used a wired mouse because I cannot for the life of me find a decent wireless mouse that tracks accurately. It's the same darn laser but I swear these things never work as well as a wired mouse.

I'm feeling the same way about my phone. Never once did someone tell me they could barely hear me on a land line. No calls were dropped. I didn't lose signal. Nor did I suffer for using a land line. I find if I use a Bluetooth device too long, I get pain at the jaw hinge joint right where the headset sits. The claims of the dangers of cellphone radiation go back and forth. Could all these tumors in this video be a coincidence?

The argument for having a wireless phone is not missing calls while you're out. Well, guess what? Most of the time when calls come in while I am out, I tell the person I'm out of the house and tell them I'll call back. It's happened to me as well, with analysts and other folks saying they are in their car and will call when they get to the office, etc.

In the end, it's about productivity. If I get one more call saying "Wow, I can barely hear you," or drop a call mid-question, that may be my signal to call AT&T for a land line and go retro. At least I'll be able to do my job.

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