In a prior column, I have written about the transformative power of the cell phone. Currently there are more than 2.1 billion cell phone accounts in the world and more than 220 million in the US. More people have cell phones than have computers or use the Internet. Globally, there are some 15 to 20 million news cell phone accounts opened up every month.
The cell phone has obviously changed the way we communicate. We are all available all the time no matter where we are. Text messaging is a new form of communication that did not exist before the cell phone. We have all experienced altered communication and behavior patterns as a result of this great technology. What is now becoming clear is that the cell phone is dramatically changing how we view and use the land line phone.
Mediamark Research just released a study that reported that 14% of U.S. adults now live in households with one or more cell phones but no landline phone. That is an impressive statistic. What makes it a milestone is that it was also reported that 12.3% of adults live in a household with a landline phone, but no cell phone. For the first time in the U.S., there are now more cell phone only households than landline only households. That is significant as the cell phone has moved from being something that was used outside the house to being the only phone. Conversely, land line phones can only be used in homes and in offices, they cannot encroach on the portable marketplace of cell phones.
Clearly this milestone is caused by two dynamics, the rapid growth of cell phones over the past 15 years and the slow decline of landline phones in the last 5 years. These two trends will continue. One of the reasons they will continue, is that a disproportionate amount of the landline only households are older demographic households. I don’t know any senior households that are cell phone only but I do know a lot of twenty or even thirty something households that are.
In addition to households, businesses are increasingly moving to the cell phone being the primary number. Most of us still have landlines for our business, but they are increasingly being listed second on business cards and rarely left on voicemail messages. They are beginning to feel almost as outdated as fax numbers in this age of email and electronic attachments.
The larger context is the move toward wireless for all communications and electronic devices. Cell phones, PDAs, laptops, wireless networks all make us less in need of being connected with wires and cords for communication and increasingly entertainment. Please take a step back and reflect on the fact that the wireless state of affairs we now take for granted only existed in science fiction and in the vision of futurists [oh yes, and Dick Tracy] just 30 years ago. The always available, always connected, always portable, ever smaller and ever more powerful wireless world that is our Present was only in the Future a couple of decades ago. See how easy we can adapt to the Future when it suits us?