The Pew Research Center has an interesting article in which they evaluate some of the luxuries of life and what Americans feel are necessities. What is surprising is how some of our technology needs have faded in their priority including television and landline telephones. So are these traditional ‘needed’ devices really losing their ground as necessities of life?
According to the Pew Research Center they state the following:
After occupying center stage in the American household for much of the 20th century, two of the grand old luminaries of consumer technology — the television set and the landline telephone — are suffering from a sharp decline in public perception that they are necessities of life.
Just 42% of Americans say they consider the television set to be a necessity, according to a new nationwide survey from the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project. Last year, this figure was 52%. In 2006, it was 64%.
The drop-off has been less severe for the landline telephone: Some 62% of Americans say it’s a necessity of life, down from 68% last year.
From 1996 through 2006 — a period of economic expansion and heavy consumer spending — a rising share of Americans saw more items on the list as necessities rather than luxuries. Since 2006 — as the housing bubble burst, the economy sank into a deep recession and consumer spending throttled down — the trend has moved the opposite way. A rising share now sees more everyday items as luxuries than necessities.
I do see the landline as a dying necessity. As many of you know, I recently dumped mine and went to cell phones. So far this has worked extremely well for my wife and I. But I recently spoke with a neighbor, who still has a landline plus cell phones, and his opinion was he felt that a landline for him was still a necessity. He stated he felt more comfortable having a landline available to his older children while he and his wife were away.
It’s Not Just the Economy
But the economy isn’t the only factor driving these numbers. For several items on the list — the television set and the landline phone are prime examples — innovations in technology also seem to be playing a role.
Indeed, the dichotomy posed by the question “luxury or necessity” may itself be something of a relic. For some items, a more appropriate question in 2010 may be whether consumers consider these venerable appliances to be “necessary” or “superfluous.”
In the case of the landline phone, a rising thumbs-down verdict comes not just from the survey but also from the marketplace. According to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data, just 74% of U.S. households now have a landline phone.1 This is down from a peak of 97% in 2001.2
During this same time period, use of cell phones has skyrocketed. Fully 82% of adults now use cell phones, up from 53% in 2000. There are now more cell phones in the U.S. than landline phones. And — as if to add insult to injury — today’s young adults are spending less time talking on their cell phones and more time texting.3
If someone would have told me six months ago, that I would be texting more than calling, I would call them nuts. Yet this is exactly what I have been doing. Texting I have found is a great way to stay in contact, with short messages, that can say something as simple as ‘I love you’. I have also found that our kids are more responsive to texts than to actual calls. Don’t get me wrong. I still make phone calls to family and friends, but I must admit, I do text more.
But age also has an influence on who are keeping their landline and who are not:
Our Schizophrenic Relationship with the Television Set
The television set presents a more confusing picture. Even as fewer Americans say they consider the TV set to be a necessity of life, more Americans than ever are stocking up on them. In 2009, the average American home had more television sets than people — 2.86, according to a Nielsen report.4 In 2000, this figure was 2.43; in 1990, it was 2.0; and in 1975, it was 1.57.
Why the disconnect between attitudes and behaviors? It’s hard to know for sure. But it may be that, unlike the landline phone, the TV set hasn’t had to deal with competition from a newfangled gadget that can fully replace all of its functions.
Yes, it’s true that in the digital era, consumers know they can watch a lot of television programming on their computers or smart phones — and this knowledge is no doubt one of the reasons fewer people now say they think of a TV set as a necessity. But if a person wants real-time access to the wide spectrum of entertainment, sports and news programming available on television, there’s still nothing (at least not yet) that can compete with the television set itself.
In addition to the age factor, income also plays a part. No surprise here that those who make more are more likely to own cell phones.
So what do you think? Are devices like landlines and televisions not a necessity in your life?