Why didn't intercoms ever catch on?

I see them in shows and movies from the early to mid-90’s, but haven’t heard a thing about them in recent ventures. Usually, when something doesn’t catch on, it’s because something better cam along to replace it. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what it might be. But for all I know, they did catch on and I just never noticed.
Any clues?

Mr. Athena and I use the intercom feature on our phones quite a bit. We both work at home, in opposite ends of the house. It’s very handy to be able to pick up the phone and easily call each other.

I suspect if our land line phone didn’t have this feature we’d use our cell phones. I’m guessing that’s the technology that made intercoms unnecessary. Intercoms only go from one room to another; a cell phone gets people wherever they might be.

An anecdote: I remember when in the mid 1970s, my parents were building a house and they decided they’d splurge and get either a built-in vacuum cleaner system or an intercom system. They ended up with a vacuum cleaner. Nowadays nobody has either.

Is there any real point to an intercom? I know some people have big houses, but it doesn’t seem like it’s ever been all that difficult to walk to the room you want and find who you’re looking for.

ETA: It did always make for a good plot in those sitcoms that you mention. Someone would have an intercom system put in, a secret would be overheard, hilarity (and occasionally penis) would ensue.

Probably because they’re a pain to wire. And many people don’t have a house big enough to warrant intercoms.

I just bought some new Panasonic cordless phones with an intercom function, that’s one of the reasons I bought them. Definitely comes in handy sometimes, although I wish there was a “page all” function instead of having to know what handset number you want to call. And when you call the handset, it rings like there’s a phone call, I’d rather be able to just talk. The handsets have speakerphone functionality too.

Mr. Athena’s office is in the basement. Mine is on the second floor, over the garage. We both work at home. Even if we didn’t, we both spend a lot of time at our computers. It gets really old going down two staircases and across the house to ask him “Did you remember to pay the cell phone bill today?” then traipsing back up two sets of stairs and across the house again, just to remember that I forgot to ask him if he’d called the accountant yesterday.

So yeah, we use the intercom phone things a lot.

My phone system has both a “ring all” or “ring individual” feature, and the ring tone is different for an internal call versus external. So it does exist.

Nobody has built-in vacuums nowadays? Why not?

My second day living in Canada I was looking for an electrical outlet to plug in a radio. I looked around the room and saw what looked like an outlet with a nice cover on it. “Would you look at that, these Canadians are so neat they even cover their electrical outlets”, I thought to myself. “I’ll just lift this cover…”


Next thing I know I am hanging from the ceiling and my heart is doing 100,000 beats per minute.


Would you look at that, these Canadians are so neat they even cover the event horizon!

FWIW, my parents have a fairly new house with an intercom. It’s good for when my mother wants to talk to my dad when he’s up in the granny flat.

I remember going into a newly built house in or about 1978, when I was a kid. This new house had a basement, main floor, upstairs, and an intercom system.

Oh, man, that was some hot shit right outta Star Wars.

I swore I would have an intercom system in my house one day. Imagine: instead of having to yell or walk to the other end of the house, all you had to do was get up, walk about 10 feet, jam your face against the little box on the wall, and press the little “speak” button.

Now that I actually own a house… I guess cell phones work better.

They did catch on. They’re just called “baby monitors.”

I suppose an intercom could still come in handy for the front door, except the cost and labor of installing an intercom doesn’t seem to outweigh the rare cost of (1) opening the front door; (2) trying to ignore the front door; or (3) yelling “WHO IS IT?” through the front door.

Being computer geeks, we use instant messaging in my house. It’s kind of silly, as the rooms aren’t very far from each other, but the acoustics are bad enough that even a shout will get a “what?”

The vacuum cleaner systems are popular around here, especially in new construction. Maybe because the manufacturer is nearby, and there’s a store that sells them, and everyone who works for the mfgr and its sister companies gets a discount.

They installed an intercom system at my first job, back in 1963. Totally silly, because the office was too small to warrant it. My boss was 20 feet away from me. The system was cheap, and I think a lot of small offices were talked into buying them when they really didn’t need them. Plus, if you pushed the wrong button, everybody heard you, not just the person you were calling.

There was an intercom system in the factory where I worked, but pagers and radios were more efficient. You carry those on your belt, instead of walking to an intercom.

I lived in a couple of those houses. The first would also let you pipe radio through the system. The second would let you pipe radio, vinyl, or 8 track. That part I miss.

I have one. We had it installed when our house was built 3 years ago. I like it.

And my in-laws used that all the time, so my m-i-l in the kitchen could call my f-i-l in his office in the attic to come down for meals.

However, those are usually one-way, so aren’t quite intercoms.

My parents have an intercom down to the basement. There are a couple of bedrooms down there and my mom doesn’t do the stairs very well.

Heck, my husband I use instant messaging and we sit eight feet away from each other and in the same room. It’s just a quick way to share links. But if we were in different rooms, I’m sure we’d use IM all the time.

Also, a friend with a new house has an intercom for the front door.

I dispute your premise. They most certainly did catch on. You can buy them in almost any department or discount store, and lots of people have them.

We have a 3,500 square foot house. My son’s room is as far from the kitchen as it’s possible to be–on a different floor. We plugged in a wireless intercom in the kitchen and one in his room, and “you have a phone call” or “it’s time for dinner” became much quicker and easier. My shop is in the detached garage (Why do people build detached garages? I’m going to have to go start a thread on that), and it saves my wife from having to walk out into my sawdust and noise to get my attention.

Intercoms are spiffy.