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Why we should bring back the family phone

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A good old-fashioned landline may be one solution for what ails us today. Here's why.

When we say “phone” these days, we generally mean a tiny, portable, digital device that we use to take photographs, send text messages, look up information, get driving directions, listen to music, watch movies, and check the time. If you think about it, the word “phone” doesn’t even make sense any more. “Phone” is short for telephone, which means “far sound.” The original device that bore the name was made for talking to someone at a distance and the one thing many smartphone users don’t seem to use their phone for is to talk to anyone.

When we rejected the device formerly known as the telephone, we lost a lot. Landlines are, in fact, a great idea for anyone who shares a home with other people.

Now before I make my case, let me say that I’m all for the benefits of personal cell phones, such as the increased safety, time-saving efficiency, and getting to our destination by the shortest route possible. But I’m not sure it’s always an advantage to be able to directly contact the one individual you want, the moment you want to. There are times, of course when this may save lives and avert disasters. But, there’s a lot to be said for making a phone call, not knowing who will answer – as it used to happen before smart phones.

Recently, I phoned my distant friend, Karen. I still knew her landline number by heart, so I dialed it and her husband, Mike, also a dear friend, answered. Karen wasn’t home, but I had a wonderful catch-up conversation with Mike. It’s because they still maintain their landline that I had the pleasure of speaking with him because it would have been weird for me to call his cell phone to chat as we did. I’ve even had some fun conversations with her children, whom I’ve never met.

That’s the brilliance of a landline – it’s a family phone. It connects more people, not fewer, and in a more social way. It’s inclusive and fosters communication and a greater sense of community.

While it may seem a little strange to say that a landline fosters communication more than a smart phone, it’s because landlines are not individual that they foster communication. When you call a family phone, you don’t know who will answer so you have to be prepared. You may have to confirm that it’s the right number, and you may even need to let the person who answers know that it’s you (if, like us, you don’t even have caller ID). You feel like you’re calling that family, not just the individual – for better or for worse. A family phone has a broader spectrum of communication potential than a cell phone.

These days, calls with smart phones are often replaced by text messages. The voice is removed, along with all its nuance, familiarity – and personality. I do have a cell phone – and I use it – but I avoid texting as a way of chatting. Not because I’m morally superior, but largely because I’m still clinging to my flip-phone. It’s cumbersome to text with it, but I like it that way because it forces me not to use it as my default mode of communication.

One of the truths about human persons mentioned early in Holy Scripture is that “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Even earlier, we learn that man is made in God’s image; it’s recorded as God saying “in our image” because, as we know, the one God is a Trinity of divine Persons (Gen 1:26). The human person is made to be in relationship with others, like a family. And we see who, from the beginning, is out to wreck relationship connections. Satan wants to isolate us – from each other, from God, from truth. Just look at the rest of the story in the book of Genesis.

Getting back a family phone may also be just the answer for parents struggling with the decision of whether or not to get their teen get a smart phone. That “all their friends have one,” may be just the reason not to get them one. We’ve all seen a family group gathered around a living room or a restaurant table, where the teens present are, shall we say, not really present. They’re swiping and tapping, gazing slack-jawed at their phones, maybe texting a friend or a group of friends. They’re actually checking out of their family to foster a relationship with others who are not physically present.

So if you’re a parent seeking an answer to the kid-phone dilemma, or you’re just a person who wants to foster better a greater sense of community when you’re communicating, consider hooking up a landline. Here are some of the advantages:

  • The quality of the connection is often superior to that of cell phones.
  • You can’t take the landline to the dinner table to text your friends below the tablecloth.
  • Since it’s less private, it can actually be safer because it’s hard to have sneaky conversations.
  • It’s only a phone, so no worries about inappropriate or unsafe internet use.
  • Children can begin to use the phone at a younger age. Even a four-year-old can answer the phone and retrieve the person the call is for. (“Hello, Pearce residence …”)
  • You have a chance of knowing who your kid is friends with when you happen to answer the call. And it’ll be good for them to have a chance to talk to a grown-up.
  • It forces you to speak in sentences.

Obviously, this doesn’t solve all the logistical problems, like communicating with your kids when they’re out, but there are other solutions for that which don’t require a smart phone. It really is possible to make the family phone a primary means of communicating with friends.

And if you still have an old landline, or you get one, start passing that phone number around to friends and see if you don’t feel more connected as a family. If it catches on, we’ll all be reconnecting with the others in our friends’ households who we probably haven’t spoken to in years.

Reprinted with permission from slowlifegoing.

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