Guest columnist Marietta Pritchard: Landlines and more in our parallel universe

A push-button landline telephone.

A push-button landline telephone. AP PHOTO/ROBERT F. BUKATY


Published: 05-10-2024 9:21 PM


Recent news reports and events have reminded me that my husband and I are living in a parallel universe. We use a landline and we read print newspapers, which are delivered to our house daily.

I have and use a cellphone, but my husband does not. He has always been a pretty strong resister of what he sees as trends. Even so, after many decades using a typewriter as a reviewer and author of books, he struggled to master the personal computer a few years ago. He is not likely now to extend himself to anything smarter than he is. I am sympathetic, but find the cell to be useful, even essential at times.

The landline is an old and comfortable habit, despite the fact that scammers and persistent marketers flourish there. But evidently only about 25 % of Americans now have those non-cellular devices. There are a few explanations why some people continue to use landlines: Seniors like us who don’t want to change their habits; younger people who want to have an alternative for when reception is poor; better comfort for long conversations; and sheer nostalgia.

Perhaps there are also a few benighted folks who live on mountaintops or are otherwise too far away from a cellular connection to be reached that way.

A recent AT&T failure of their cellular network reinforced the impression that landlines can often be more reliable than cellphones. An outage in February for 12 hours affected some 240 million subscribers. Texts (Tweets? Xs?) from local authorities asked subscribers not to call 911 to test their phones because those emergency centers were already being swamped. Instead, the authorities recommended, make an “ordinary” call, preferably with a landline.

At one time those “ordinary” calls had a different flavor. My husband remembers a single phone on the floor of his college dorm. Absolutely no privacy, with his dormmates hooting rude remarks as he tried to set up a date with a girl at a nearby college. At home, too, it was hard to get away from family members when you wanted to pour out your soul.

And remember party lines, when several households shared the same line? That was then. Movie plots from then and now demonstrate some more of the difference. A person could perhaps be located by the pay phone she had called from (what’s a pay phone?), but how do you find a criminal who has thrown away a “burner” phone?

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Meanwhile, print newspapers are in the same sort of decline as landlines. The graphs showing national trends describe a depressingly steep slope down.

Although I have digital subscriptions to several papers, we also get them delivered every day. This paper habit can be seen as an extravagance and something of a recycling overreach, but to us it also feels necessary. We discovered just how necessary when our supremely reliable paper deliverer of several decades left the country in February.

For several weeks we scrambled to figure out who to contact for this service. In the meantime, I learned where I might be able to find copies of the daily and Sunday papers. (Where have you gone, A.J. Hastings, Amherst’s paragon of stationers?!) Now all seems to be more or less back to normal, although the timing of deliveries is something of a mystery.

Yes, and by the way, we still listen to music on CDs and vinyl.

Marietta Pritchard lives in Amherst and can be reached at