Long gone?

From landlines to e-mail to movies to print, their demise has been greatly exaggerated

By Alex Beam
Globe Columnist / March 4, 2011

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Everything is obsolete. Or is it?

Way back in 2003, the Wall Street Journal argued convincingly that cellphones would supplant telephone land lines: “More Americans are dropping their landline connections for cellphones, posing another problem for the large telephone companies.’’

That made sense to me. I’ve always hated the phone company and its impenetrable pricing schemes. I was looking forward to cutting the cord. Guess what? I still have a land line, and I use it quite a bit. No dropped calls. “Free’’ calling to any US area code. That’s a pricing scheme I can understand.

The Journal wasn’t wrong. The Centers for Disease Control, which monitor cellphone versus land line use, have noted a marked shift to cellphone use, especially in the demographic it calls “the young and the restless’’ — young adults who rent their homes.

But in stodgy New England, households are more prone to have kept the home phone than in other parts of the country. “We consistently find that states in the Northeast are more likely to retain their landlines,’’ the CDC’s Dr. Stephen Blumberg told me, making me feel better about being un-young and un-restless.

Maybe you didn’t get the memo, but voice mail is no more. “It’s time voice mail threw in the towel,’’ Slate magazine technology scribe Farhad Manjoo wrote in May 2009. Manjoo, the thinking man’s Walter Mossberg, had ditched voice mail in favor of Google Voice, which converts voice mail messages into e-mail. True, it occasionally renders his first name as “Bob’’ or “Todd,’’ but that’s a small price to pay.

Not to be outdone, Michael Arrington of the website Tech Crunch pounced on the voice mail grave, freshly dug by Manjoo: “Voice mail is dead. Please tell everyone so they’ll stop using it.’’ Yes, please tell Deval Patrick, Vicki Kennedy, Barney Frank, and every other Democratic Party hack who bombarded my voice-mail account with audio spam during the recent election season.

Scenester extraordinaire Choire Sicha — he was one of the first editors at, worked at the New York Observer when that still meant something, and cofounded — recently declared that “e-mail is over:’’ “People have become unwilling to send e-mails,’’ Sicha wrote. “They’re too cumbersome, they’re too long and there’s actually not an app for that. And no one wants to type that long on their devices.’’

So true! So true! Why, if one of my sons hadn’t e-mailed me a link to the article, I never would have seen it at all. Curiously, I reached Sicha super-pronto, using . . . e-mail. But I thought. Oh. Never mind.

My e-mail queue remains jammed with fabulous column ideas pitched by the nation’s ablest flacks. Would I like to write about the Chaheati, the “all-seasons heated chair’’? The mind-twisting word game Scruble Cube? Or cover this oddball publication “The Book-The Game’’ with 27 Hebrew alphabet letters, showing rabbis enjoying the game of golf?

E-mail can’t die soon enough.

I told Sicha I was writing a column about All Things Obsolete, and he kindly reminded me: “Don’t forget newspapers!’’ How could I forget, or forget to point out that you are reading one now, pal.

Aren’t movies obsolete? And yet just six days ago, 37 million people were glued to their television sets watching the ridiculous Academy Awards. Wait; I thought television was obsolete, relegated to the wastebin of history by TiVo, Hulu, Netflix, and the iPad, everyone’s favorite home entertainment center. And yet the Katie Courics of the world still have jobs — for now, at least.

Books? No one has read a “p-book’’ — that’s industry jargon for “print books’’ — in years, according to nice Mr. Bezos of Amazon, who would like to sell you e-books on his Kindle gizmo. How counterintuitive, then, that total US books sales increased 3.9 percent to almost $12 billion in 2010, according to the Association of American Publishers.

I just read two p-books: “The Last Crossing,’’ by Guy Vanderhaeghe, and Mordecai Richler’s hilarious “Barney’s Version,’’ which I am told is 20 times better than the movie. And I read them for free, thanks to my local library.

Wait — aren’t libraries obsolete? The subject of my next column, perhaps.

Alex Beam is a Globe columnist. His e-dress is