Fewer Landline Phones Lead To Loss Of Manners, Conversation, And Writing Skills
I often hear people discussing why so many young people–even those in higher education–have too few skills at writing, conversation, and certain social graces. There are many reasons for the shortcomings. From family structure, technology, to education shortfalls there are a raft of reasons as to why Johnny can not spell, write a paragraph or know how to dress for church. Not any one reason can be held up for this happening. But as the newspaper allowed us to see today even the loss of the landline phone has contributed.
Nearly half of U.S. households no longer have landlines and instead rely on their cellphones, up from about 27% five years ago, the National Center for Health Statistics says. Among young adults ages 25 through 34, fewer than one-third have landlines. Even at homes with landlines, the phone rings mainly with telemarketers and poll-takers.
Few miss being tethered by a cord to a 3-pound telephone. But family landlines had their pluses. Small children had an opportunity to learn telephone manners, siblings had to share, and parents had to set boundaries governing its use. Now, the shared hub of family communication has given way to solo pursuits on mobile devices.
Eric J. Parker was taught as a child to answer the phone: “Parker residence. How can I help you?” His father was an anesthesiologist who sometimes got calls at home from hospitals or physicians, says the Weston, Mass., attorney. Greeting all callers in a polite, formal way “was something my mother baked into us. We had a front-end role. We represented the family to the outside world.”
Mr. Parker’s 13-year-old daughter Myranda never uses the family landline; she texts her friends. She enjoys teasing her dad about a vintage black desktop telephone installed in his basement workshop, calling it “his phone from the 1900s.”
Tracy Kurschner learned as a toddler to spell her name by listening to her mother spell it for others on the phone. “She’d say, ‘Hello, this is Mrs. Zajackowski, Z-A-J-A-C-K-O-W-S-K-I,’” says Ms. Kurschner, a Minneapolis communications consultant. “People were just shocked that I knew how to spell my name by age 3.”
She also listened to her mother’s nightly phone conversations with her grandmother, asking how doctor appointments had gone and whether her grandmother was feeling well and getting her daily naps and vitamins. Ms. Kurschner continued the tradition, making nightly calls to her own parents and inviting her three children, now 23, 20 and 14, to listen and participate.
Overhearing adults’ phone conversations taught children “the nurturing work of adulthood,” such as setting up doctor appointments or planning activities for loved ones, says Sherry Turkle, author of “Reclaiming Conversation” and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Now all that work is done silently, by tapping on a keyboard.”