Posted by: nickgerlich | April 10, 2008

Is There Anybody In There?

When I was in high school, I was a delivery boy for an office supply store. This was in the days before Office Max, Office Depot, and Staples. Our little stationer sold a nice variety of office supplies, along with desks, chairs, and file cabinets. And typewriters.

I carried many of those unwieldy but trusty machines back and forth between our shop, our clients, and the contract repairman we used. We never in our wildest dreams thought they would go away. And, in keeping with tradition at the time, my parents even bought me one for high school graduation. I was going off to college, you see, and I would surely need one to type all those papers.

Of course, today a typewriter is the Amish plow of office equipment. They are probably more appropriately recast as boat anchors, although I suspect they just sit idly in our closets on unreachable shelves.

EmbarqFortunately for society the typewriter makers either went away or figured out some other way to conduct business. Personal computers were the nails in that coffin, and the wimpering stopped fairly quickly.

But not everyone is willing to go down easily, even when faced with technological progress that renders them Amish converts.

Like Embarq, for example. Yesterday Embarq (the fourth-largest landline provider in the US) announced their new landline phone with web capabilities. Made by V-tech, the phone looks like many other cordless devices we have all had around the house, but its small screen provides for a modest amount of web browsing and information gathering. Designed to work only with high-speed internet service already in the home, it is a last-gasp effort by a traditional phone company to try to keep people from going wireless.

And ditching their landlines completely.

At $130 for the base station handset (and $50 for each add-on), this is an expensive way to try to keep people in the dark ages. It is little different from offering a retro-throwback to other low-tech devices.

Me in 1970s: “Hey, check out my new TI-30! It’s got every function imaginable. And dig those LEDs. Isn’t that cool!”

Embarq-like Defender of the Faith: “No, you don’t want that! You want our new digital slide rule!”

Why would I want a landline phone with limited web capability? If I already have broadband in the home, it means I already have at least one computer. And like most households, that computer is always on. Thus, if I need information, I go to my computer. With the 19″ monitor. That I can actually see.

And if I am out and about (something you cannot do with the Embarq phone, unless you have a very long cord), I use my iPhone to do everything else short of driving the car.

Instead of trying to find ways to shackle people to horse-drawn plows, Embarq should be fixating on the future, not the past. Landlines had their day, but that party is over. Where have you been, Embarq?


“Hello. Um…OK, just a minute…. Hey, Embarq. It’s for you. It’s the 21st century calling!”

I’ve got to go work on that closet and make some space beside that old typewriter. Anyone want a slide rule?

Dr “Hello, Hello” Gerlich


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