Land Lines or Land Mines: The Xer (Dad) Files

You’re seeing them in fewer and fewer homes: land lines. For most of us as we were growing up, that was the only way to communicate with someone who wasn’t actually in your home at the time. Unless you felt like dropping a letter in the mail! With so many other options—email, text, social media—there really is no need for them anymore. Of course, if you really wanted to talk to someone, you could always reach out on your iPhone, but the telephone app is one of the least used apps on the phone, and most people are pretty upset when you use it on them. I wonder why? And what are our kids learning from these changing times?

Case in point: our kids never see us answer the phone. And we have a land line! Not to say that it doesn’t ring; it does, but the person on the other end is not someone we like to talk to. Usually, it’s a telemarketer, or a pollster, or a debt collector, or a fundraiser… Basically, someone calling with information that you didn’t ask for. Our kids see us check the caller ID, or read the number as it pops up on our TV screen, and scowl while we don’t answer the phone. What does that say to them?

When us Xers were youngins ourselves, there was something romantic about a phone call. A long-lost relative or close friend calling to check in on our lives. It was a mystery… an unknown caller who could have great news or horrible news. Sometimes the information received on that phone call was so interesting/adult/secretive/juicy you would listen in on the conversation from another phone in the house and try not to breathe too loudly. You can’t even do that anymore if you wanted to. But back in the day, phone conversations were a part of our daily existence.

Our Gen Edge (or Gen Z, today’s teens) kids have no experience answering phones at home. Instead of using land lines to talk, they're on their smartphones crafting cryptic emoji-laden texts or Snapchatting. And when they do see the land line ring, they watch as their parents run in the opposite direction or become genuinely annoyed. How dare those telemarketers disturb Silicon Valley? Is it any wonder that Edgers might have an aversion to answering and making calls when they eventually enter the workplace? I mean, the 20-something Millennials who are in the workplace have a minor heart attack when they have to talk on the phone. (This observation is entirely based on first-hand experience.) But at least they understand that it needs to be done, and most are actually quite good at having that verbal conversation. Gen Edgers will most likely have little to no experience talking on the phone when they enter the workplace, and as far as I can tell, phones aren't going anywhere. At least not for some time yet.

While video conference call systems might be the norm in the future, it is still at its most basic, a phone call. Gen Edgers today might lack some of the basic skills to communicate in this manner, and they'll need our help. So I say the next time you see that unknown number coming in on caller ID, turn it into a teachable moment and answer the phone on speaker with your kid. Be polite, patient, and keep the swearing to a minimum, and they might learn some important skills for when they enter the workplace.