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Daddy, What’s a Landline?

In previewing a story about an Arkansas town fighting to keep phone booths, The New York Times explains what those are.


Presumably, they were going for clever here but the premise is true: those under a certain age have likely never encountered, much less used, a phone booth. Then again, the same is increasingly true of landline telephones. I only maintain ours for emergencies and to help locate the iPhone when I misplace it.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He earned a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.


  1. I still see pay phones in public in some places.

    But I honestly can’t remember the last time I saw an actual phone *booth*.

    Obviously, this poses serious problems for Superman.

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  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    We have a landline at our house because we have really bad cell reception. I have not seen a pay phone in years. Thought they were all gone. On the good side, it makes making anonymous threatening phone calls a lot harder. If a call comes thru with the # blocked, I just ignore it. I suspect the same can be said of obscene phone calls.

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  3. Tyrell says:

    I would expect payphones might still be in airports, bus and train stations, and hotels. I did see a phone booth a while back, outside a convenience store. I would like to drop our landline, but reception here is inconsistent. Phone booths used to be nice: clean, well maintained, with a directory, a phone that worked, and a light. Then they fell into ruin as vagrants, scumbags, and various riff raff vandalized them, stole the money and directories, even slept in them, and generally trashed them. A sad commentary on our society, you can’t have anything anymore.
    I have a nice CB radio in the garage somewhere. The last time I tried it I picked up one person; used to be every channel would be lit up at night. I would like to get an amateur radio and find out what is really going on in some of those other countries.

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  4. just me says:

    We haven’t had a landline in years-more the 5 at least. My kids are old enough to remember though.

    Pretty much no pay phones in our town although no phone booths either even when we had pay phones.

    This reminds me of the bit from a kids show where they hand kids a rotary phone and have them explain what they think it is and how to use it.

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  5. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Our landline is “Ooma”

    Which of course, doesn’t make it a landline… however, it is plugged into a “phone jack” … (that connector in a wall that looks smaller than an Ethernet connector… Oh… an “Ethernet connector” was a way to connect to a network before pervasive wireless.) …

    Anyway… with OOMA connected, and the internal wiring disconnected at the demark, all the TDM handsets are now IP Enabled. And costs nothing.

    So, that means that we have a phone number to give out to all the folks from which we don’t wish to get a call. :)

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  6. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Here’s a question:

    Do they still put phone jacks in new construction homes?

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  7. MarkedMan says:

    In Shanghai they’ve found a clever use for the bright red phone booths of bygone eras: they have power and wiring capable of handling data so they have become thousands of wi-if hotspots throughout the city.

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  8. Grewgills says:

    I didn’t know they still had pay phones outside of airports and train stations.

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  9. Franklin says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: I don’t know, but we had an addition put in recently and they looked at us like we were crazy when we asked to run a phone jack in. (Our landline use is pretty much equivalent to James’.)

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  10. Franklin says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Ahh, but doesn’t anybody miss prank calls? Could the Jerky Boys have a career these days?

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  11. al-Ameda says:

    Cellphone reception is so hit-and-miss up where I live that a landline is completely necessary. Most of my friends and one of my daughters live in the heart of the Bay Area and near Silicon Valley and they go with cell phones, no need for landlines down there coverage is that good. Most young people I work with in San Francisco do not have a landline. I wish I could do the same.

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  12. Nikki says:

    I saw a pay phone in Hollywood, FL, just 2 months ago. And someone was actually using it!

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  13. grumpy realist says:

    @al-Ameda: cell-phone reception here in Chicago [grumble] I’d do better with two tin cans and a piece of string…

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