Who Killed the Landline? Smartphones!

Mar 23, 2016 Who Killed the Landline? Smartphones!

Last night I was watching a Law & Order rerun and a detective called the captain on a pay phone. Needless to say, this episode was from the early ’90s! By mid-decade all the cops on the show were using cell phones constantly.

Mobile phones have changed more than crime dramas (and police work). And now the landline in every home is also becoming a thing of the past. About 90% of Americans have cell phones, but almost half of U.S. adults only have a cell phone. This trend has some unexpected consequences beyond too many of us texting while driving. It has impacted organizations that gather polling and research data for everything from politicians to kitty litter. Despite the evolution of online research surveys, calling on the phone is still an effective information-gathering method for capturing a diverse sample. And calling the right number of landlines and cell phones matters.

Research organizations are reacting by including more cell phone numbers among those called. It’s not that they ignored cell phones before, having started calling in 2009. Beginning this year, the Pew Research Center will increase the percentage of respondents contacted on cell phones from 65% to 75%. It’s important to the accuracy of the research results, since cell phone-only people tend to be younger, less educated, and more likely to live in urban areas compared to the landline set. Pew says this change will more accurately represent a mix of audience demographics.

This unintended consequence of cell phone ubiquity means more work and more expense. Since there are no directories of cell phone numbers, researchers have to purchase them from firms that collect the numbers. And cell phone numbers cannot be dialed by an autodialing device. Interviewers must let their fingers do the walking, meaning more time and more cost. It has to be done to deliver accurate research for polling and marketing research. So next time an unrecognized area code pops up on your cell phone, you may have won a cruise, or someone looking for your opinion!

For more information, visit the Pew Research Center.