Televisions and landlines, once American household fixtures, have shifted from being necessities to castoffs.
Just 42 percent of Americans say they consider the television set to be a necessity, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends project. Last year, this figure was 52 percent. In 2006, it was 64 percent. TV peaked in 1973 and remained fairly steady for more than three decades before its precipitous drop this year.
While "TV" has been dismissed, a small but growing percentage of respondents say a flat panel TV is a household necessity: 10 percent of respondents this year compared with 5 percent in 2006. Americans have bought more than 100 million flat screen television sets since 2005, according to industry reports.
The drop-off has been less severe for the landline telephone: Some 62 percent of Americans say it's a necessity of life, down from 68 percent last year.
But there's a related trend that's more perilous for the landline: Fully 47 percent of the public say that it's younger, smarter and more nimble cousin --the cell phone -- is a necessity of life. Today, 84 percent of adults use cell phones compared with 74 percent of households with a landline, down from 97 percent in 2001.
And the perception is even stronger among young adults. Fewer than half of 18- to 29-year-old survey respondents consider the landline phone a necessity of life. Fewer than three-in-ten (29 percent) say the same about the television set.
But the study's researchers are quick to point out that it's not American life that's changing, rather it's the devices we use every day that have changed. No longer is television programming confined to the living room today. For example, 52 percent of all Americans now watch video online, ranging from short amateur clips to television programming to movies, according to Pew.
Also, as of early 2008, 31 percent of Americans were listening to radio programming on their computers and other non-radio devices.
And as of this past spring, some 14 percent of cell phone owners said they had watched videos (including TV programming) on their phones, a trend that will grow as more services are made available to mobile devices.