Sitting in the corner of my apartment, on a wooden table next to an AC unit, is a fire-red telephone. It’s the kind of object I imagine sits in the home of a stylish super-spy: “Ms. Taylor, this is the CIA calling. We need you for a top-secret mission inMonte Carlo...” I, of course, am not any sort of agent (that career choice was ruled out for my clumsy, anxiety-prone self a long time ago). Instead, I’m just a regular person who, in this age of touch screens and texting, made the most un-millennial of moves: getting a landline.
I am not, in fact, a Luddite. I have more digital subscriptions than print ones, I recently downloaded TikTok, and I update my iPhone, like, the third time Apple asks. Yet here I am, with a relic of the past for 11 dollars a month (give or take—you try doing a cent-by-cent breakdown of your cable bundle).
I’d like to say I’m not alone. But, honestly, I might be. A recent study found that 70 percent of people ages 25 to 34 are mobile-phone-only, and anecdotally, 100 percent of my peers are. There’s a reason that Drake belted “you used to call me on my cell phone” not “you used to call me on my home phone.” They’re socially and culturally irrelevant.
I’ve always had an urge to unplug, to spend days in a cabin without any WiFi or service. But the reality is, it’s near impossible to go off the grid when everyone else is still on it. Friends and family worry about you if you don’t respond to your texts, and urgent work inquiries are expected to be answered 24/7. For the average person in corporate America, being unreachable is not a luxury they can afford.
But our constant phone attachment is making us sick. Sleep deficit, anxiety, stress, and depression are all linked to cell-phone use. One study found that “whenever a habit is converted into an obligation, it becomes an addiction.” One that I was developing: at one point, I was spending over two hours a day on Instagram alone. And as my screen time soared, my serotonin sank.
“If only people could get ahold of me instantly, but not on my iPhone…” I daydreamed, until I realized that, duh, the invention existed, courtesy of Alexander Graham Bell since 1922.
At first, I told myself that it was a waste of money—between my office job and social obligations, I wasn’t home enough to pick it up if it rang. But then the pandemic hit, and my 400 square foot apartment became my own, and only, little world.
I was on a call with my cable provider for something unrelated when they asked if I wanted to add a landline to my cable package. “No,” I scoffed. Ever the salesman, the representative pressed on. What if someone happened to my cell? What if the power went out? “So alarmist!” I thought. But then a specific memory that I’d buried deep bubbled up: Boston, April 15, 2013. Two bombs, detonated fewer than five miles away from my college. Erroneous news reports saying another lurked on my campus. I remembered frantically trying to call my parents to tell them I was ok, but not being able to get through. None of us could: the cell towers were overwhelmed with call and text volume. We finally connected hours later. “Nothing was working,” I said, voice soft and shaky, to my father. “Ah,” he said. “The same thing happened to me in New York on September 11.”
So here I was, five years later, scared again and separated from my family. Perhaps some tangible technology wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
I’d recently become fascinated with GPO Retro, a U.K. based company that makes oxymoronic nostalgic-future products: for example, an 80s-style stereo that blasts music via bluetooth. They offered modernized versions of British telephone designs from 1920-1970—all chic, classic, and significantly less clunky then the phones of my childhood. So, I ordered one.
Sure, most of my friends still prefer to text me. But every day, I use my landline more and more. Especially for work: the reception is better, and there’s a healthy dissociation that comes with having one phone for business, one phone for pleasure. And if I do take a personal call, I’m no longer distracted by incoming messages or notifications. The voice on the other end has my full attention.
The other night, I left my phone on silent in the kitchen. Normally, I would have felt some withdrawal-related anxiety: what if someone needs to urgently reach me?Well, there was the landline for that. I had no excuse to get sucked into my endless nightly scroll. It all felt very peaceful. “New phone,” I thought. “Who dis?”