Landline phones find new life with nostalgic fans

First came the rhinestone-encrusted rotary. Then cherry red lips. After that, the cheeseburger.

Last summer, Chanell Karr amassed a collection of six landline phones. His most recent, an orange Trimline originally designed as a promotional item for the 1986 film “Pretty in Pink,” was purchased in June. Although she only has one phone – a more discreet VTech model – plugged in, all of them are in working order.

“During the pandemic, I wanted to disconnect from all the distracting things on a smartphone,” said Ms. Karr, 30, who works in marketing and ticketing at a concert venue near her home in Alexandria, Ky. “I just wanted to go back to the original analog methods of having a landline.”

Once a kitchen staple, bedside companion, and plot device on sitcoms like “Sex and the City” and “Seinfeld,” the landline phone has all but been replaced by its newer, smarter cordless counterpart.

In 2003, more than 90 percent respondents to an investigation carried out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they had a working landline at their home. From June 2021that number – which includes phones connected to the Internet and those wired the old fashioned way (via copper lines from a house to a local junction box) – had fallen to just over 30 percent.

But like record players and VHS tapes, landline phones are embraced by nostalgic fans who say their non-scrolling, non-walkable nature is an antidote to screen fatigue and excessive multitasking. The crescent shape of the receivers of many phones, according to users, is also a more natural and comfortable fit against a cheek than the flat body of a smartphone. And with a non-wireless device, you have to engage more in the act of talking; the phone call becomes more intentional.

In January, Emily Kennedy, a communications manager in the Canadian public service, started using an old calamine-lotion pink rotary phone from her father’s office to get away from her social media work.

Ironically, Mrs. Kennedy got the idea on Twitter. When Rachel Syme, a staff writer at The New Yorker, tweeted in January about a landline phone she had connected via Bluetooth, Ms Kennedy was one of many people who responded saying Ms Syme had inspired them to start one.

“Having my old phone as an object in my house is a signal that I like a slower pace,” said Kennedy, 38, who lives in Ottawa, Ont.

Like Ms Syme and many other modern analog phone users, Ms Kennedy has no copper wire on her landline – so she doesn’t have her own number – but uses a Bluetooth attachment to connect her to cellular service. from his smartphone. (In other words, when connected, it can take a cell phone call on the landline.)

Matt Jennings has worked at Old Phone Works, a Kingston, Ont., company that refurbishes and sells landline phones, since 2011. Today, its managing director, Mr. Jennings, 35, said that during Over the past two years, customer demand for candy-colored rotary telephones from the 1950s and 1960s has skyrocketed.

“About a year and a half ago, it completely blew up,” Mr Jennings said. “Over the past six or seven years we’ve been able to get one or two orders for them, and now that’s probably one of our main sources of income.”

On what drove the recent desire for landlines, Mr Jennings said: “It’s back to basics. He added: “You can’t really go anywhere with a landline phone, you’re basically stuck within three feet of the base. You can have a real conversation without being distracted.

Rachel Lahbabi, 37, noticed a similar surge of interest after she started selling landline phones online through her Etsy store, Robert JoyceVintageby early 2021. By October, they had become some of the most viewed products it offered, said Ms. Lahbabi, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“The ones I was setting up were going so fast,” she said. “I was like, ‘OK, people are definitely looking for this, so I should really focus on this trend.'”

Pink lip-shaped phones have been particularly popular among her customers, Ms. Lahbabi said, as well as clear or neon designs. Also in demand: Garfield telephones.

All of these styles, she added, “are probably similar to a phone they had when they were younger.”

On Etsy, there was a 45% increase in searches for phones from the year 2000 and 90s and a 26% increase in searches for rotary phones in 2021 compared to 2020, said Dayna Isom Johnson, business trends expert.

“Talking on a landline phone is a bit like going to see a movie at the cinema, rather than watching it at home where you have distractions,” said Nicole Wilson, 32, who has two rotary phones at home. she in Manhattan: a pink princess and another baby blue model.

Ms Wilson, director of sales at Upfluence, an influencer marketing platform, also says landlines offer respite from her screen work. She bought her first phone in 2019 and started using it after watching a ICT Tac video that explained how to connect it to your mobile phone via Bluetooth.

While many who have recently acquired landlines use them with newer technology, some prefer a more traditional approach.

Janelle Remlinger, 37, got a landline phone for her home in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in December 2020 after a storm disrupted cell service in her area. She hardwired it to her modem, but when Ms. Remlinger lost power for eight days in another storm in October, she began looking for a more reliable connection.

“I’m working on getting an authentic, real, old-fashioned landline routed through the wires,” Ms. Remlinger said.

As attractive as landline phones can be, even their most ardent fans recognize that it’s fundamentally impossible to use them exclusively.

Alex McConnell, 30, a personal banker at KeyBank in Fort Collins, Colorado, has a Western Electric rotary phone wired over copper lines at his home. February 14 was not Valentine’s Day, but the 146th birthday of Alexander Graham Bell filing the patent application for the telephone.

“I made a meal with ‘Bell’ peppers and ‘Graham’ crackers,” Mr McConnell said. “Then I made a circular cake on which I used blue frosting to affix the Bell logo and the phone’s original patent number.”

His landline is not only more reliable than a cellphone, he says, but also encourages him to memorize his friends’ phone numbers, which he sees as a form of intimacy.

“Since I have to dial my friends’ phone numbers, I find it really helps me connect them to memory,” McConnell said.

But even he cannot avoid the call of modern life.

“My secret grief is that I have a cell phone.”


All Consuming is a column about the things we see – and want to buy right now.

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