Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bring Back the Telephone Booth!

In last Sunday's odds-and-ends post, I offered pictures of a couple of updated cell phones. Today, we look at a proposal to bring back one of the iconic parts of the telephone experience - the venerable phone booth.

If you are my age or older, you no doubt remember the humble telephone booth, which offered a quiet, relatively private location from which to make phone calls. These came in many sizes and shapes, from the traditional glass-and-steel streetside box ...

to the more elegant, burnished wood cabinets found in fancy restaurants and hotels ...

But with the advent of the ubiquitous cell phone, the need for an enclosure containing a coin-operated telephone has pretty much disappeared. The telephone companies have found that installing and maintaining phone booths and coin-operated phones just isn't worth the effort and expense any more, and the traditional telephone booth has gone the way of the Edsel, the passenger pigeon, the dinosaurs, and reasonable, thoughtful statesmen in Congress.

But in an article on CNN yesterday, commentator Bob Greene suggested bringing back the phone booth in a new form - a comfortable, private enclosure for holding conversations, noting that

Phone booths were a wonderfully democratic invention, intended to shut out the noise of the immediate outside world so the person in the booth could privately, in silence, talk with someone miles away.

You've probably been annoyed at least once a day by some clueless ass clown shouting loudly into his (or her) cell phone at inappropriate times and locations, broadcasting the most intimate and embarrassing details of their lives and relationships to everyone within earshot. Mr Greene offers an elegant solution to the problem, asking

If there were clean, convenient, phone(less) booths readily available, don't you think that people would step into them to make their cell phone calls? Who wouldn't opt for privacy and quiet if it was there for them to take?

Who, indeed?

I remember the experience of sitting in cramped, hot phone booths to make the personal long-distance calls I couldn't make from my office phone, and of searching for the loose change demanded by the operator to keep the conversation going. I also remember keeping myself in ice cream money by checking the coin return slot of each pay phone I passed, always finding the occasional dime or quarter to add to my pocket money.

And what about Superman? He used to use phone booths as a convenient, private place to change from mild-mannered Clark Kent into the Man of Steel. What would he do today?

And so I agree with Mr Greene - bring back the phone booth ... without the phone. Offer us convenient, clean, private places to make the cell phone calls we'd otherwise inflict on our neighbors ... or in which to hide from the din of the world around us.

Have a good day, and have it quietly and privately ... your neighbors will thank you.

More thoughts tomorrow.



Big Sky Heidi said...

I haven't seen one in a long time. However, I agree that they would be nice if people would use them while talking on cell phones. But the loudest offenders might not use them.

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Some older, prestigious hotels still may have them.

Amanda said...

It sounds like a good idea but I'm not sure I would use one because 1)the phone booths I've been in were all dirty and 2)I'd have to enclose two kids with me in that small space.

Don't worry though, I'm more a texter than a talker so I don't really add to the noise pollution.

KathyA said...

What a great idea for use of cell phones!!

Where would GET SMART have been without the telephone booth -- or Superman???

Mike said...

I say bring back the REAL telephone too.

Bilbo said...

Heidi - sadly, you are probably right.

Angelique - some of the super-high end hotels here in Disneyland-on-the-Potomac do.

Amanda - good point. Many of the phone booths I used to have to use were cramped, smelly and hot ... not like the nice ones in the hotels. And you are obviously one of those texters whose incessant clicking drives the rest of us crazy...

Kathy - Yes, Maxwell Smart would have been in trouble without the booth. And do you remember the scene from the first Superman film with Christopher Reeve in which you look from above to see Clark Kent charge down the street toward the sign that says "TELEPHONE" ... and the camera pulls back to him staring in confusion at the telephone bubble hanging on a pole as he desperately seeks a place to change clothes!

Mike - Yep. It's hard to beat an intruder over the head with a cell phone rather than a 60's vintage 750-pound bakelite monster.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Wasn't Superman swift enough the remember that phone booths had glass doors?

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

You know Bill I think you are on to something. I love the idea of having these booths again. I am sick and tired of listening to other peoples conversations. I don't want to hear them so putting these people who feel the need to be on these constantly makes me happy!

Duckbutt said...

People tend to talk overly loud on cell phones because they can't hear themselves like they could on the old Bell telephones.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Suddenly I want to go for a ride in the TARDIS