More Families Pull The Plug On Their Home Phone

A new line in telephone design was introduced in London in August 1974. i

The notion of the family phone as a shared family resource is as passe as Ma Bell. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images
A new line in telephone design was introduced in London in August 1974.

The notion of the family phone as a shared family resource is as passe as Ma Bell.

Getty Images

Phone Fights Of Yesteryear

The battles The Brady Bunch fought over who gets to use the phone are as foreign now to the Fitzsimmons kids as the rotary dial.

Land line graphic
Alyson Hurt/NPR

The concept of a home phone may soon be going the way of the corner pay phone.

Government research shows that more and more households are getting rid of their land line. And for the first time, cell-phone-only homes outnumber those with just land lines.

Kelly Fitzsimmons did not give up her phone without a fight. The instrument of gossip and grand plans, and the bearer of bad news and good, the land line to her was a lifeline.

"I just had in my head you gotta have a land line. You gotta have a land line," she says. "That's the phone to your home, not to me, Kelly, or my husband, John, or the kids individually, but to the family. It's home base."

But last fall, with the down economy forcing hard decisions, Fitzsimmons was finally persuaded.

The telephone and answering machine have been cleared from their perch on the kitchen counter, the phone jack above it vacant.

"It's a beautiful thing," she says.

Instead, a cluster of cell phones is recharging nearby. When the Fitzsimmonses decided to "cut the cord," they added two cell phones to their family plan, for the older of their four kids, and they started saving $150 a month.

Now, her house, in Harvard, Mass., is a cacophony of electronic ditties, with ring tones blurting out one after another, and kids in constant — and simultaneous — conversation.

Gone are the days when kids had to wait their turn and fight for the time to make a call.

"We used to start fighting," says Meagan, 11. "Like, 'I have to call my friends!' "

"I remember the days when I was in high school; I had a 15-minute phone limit," recalls Kelly Fitzsimmons.

Today, the notion of the family phone as a shared family resource is as passe as Ma Bell.

Fitzsimmons says, so far, the biggest challenge to going cell-only is remembering to turn the ringer back on from vibrate and remembering to carry it from room to room. It's one thing to keep your cell phone with you at work and in the car, but quite another when you're walking around the house in your pajamas on a Sunday morning.

"You just don't hear it," says Fitzsimmons. "I'm hardest to reach in my home sometimes."

It can also be hard for Mom when she's out, trying to reach the kids at home.

They often leave their phones off or uncharged, and sometimes, Fitzsimmons says, she has to call one of her kids' friends' cell phones, just to reach someone in her own house.

Fitzsimmons says that with calls going directly into her kids' pockets instead of through a family line, she also has to work a little harder to stay on top of whom the kids are talking to.

"I check their phone logs and their text messages," she says.

But overall, Fitzsimmons says, switching to cell has brought the family closer.

"I do feel more connected. I can just say a quick 'Hello' from work, or they'll call me, too. They'll say, 'Mom, I got an A on this test.' So it encourages the communication," she says.

The kids tell pretty much the same story. And they say they especially love getting a call at home on their cell.

"Its feels, like, special because ... we know they want to talk to us when somebody calls, but when they called the house phone, you didn't know if they wanted to talk to somebody else," Meagan explains.

By the same token, being able to dial directly to the person you want, instead of going through a family line, means fewer of those "forced" conversations you have to endure when you pick up a call meant for someone else. As one professor of cell phone technology put it, "I hardly ever speak to my mother-in-law anymore!"

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