On booths: public phones and more

2021-10-11 @Blog

Occasional public pay phones still cover significant territory. I find them in Mexico. Plenty popped up around Brazil. On the other hand, fully enclosed booths I haven’t as often seen.

My last experience with a pay phone took place in Tokyo circa 2012. I can’t well recall the nature of the booth. Nor did I even successfully manage to initiate the phone call: proper change inserted, number dialed, some button combination pressed, yet no connection tone or voice heard.

That might have been my sole interaction with a street pay phone in the last 20 years. Far more often have I asked for the courtesy to use a retail landline or even borrow a stranger’s cell phone to make the call. In fact, I find this socially engaging approach far more straightforward to these public telephony boxes - unsure if they even accept coins nowadays.

And long has passed since I’d witnessed the classic rotary model. They seem to have gradually faded along with the booths, replaced the button-operated boxes, many oddly of bulkier size. And too bad, as the phone booth market has undergone an evolution of captivating design, per my last trip to the retrograde tech gallery. Natural selection then brought it to near extinction.

Perhaps a subset of parallel branches of reality abounds in public pay phones as a fairly standard communication protocol. Here, alas, the smartphone gained the innovative edge.

Even the not-so-prophetic motion picture Blade Runner (1982), set in a 2019 future that we’ve just surpassed: a future far advanced in the robotic, aerial-transport and space-colonization pursuit, a future plentiful in the miscellany of cyber-dystopian tech, a future stricken by worldwide radiation and massive biological extinction: the picture still exhibits public phone booths and land-line telephony, albeit video-enabled.

Nor do I readily recall all-encompassing mobile technology in any of my favourite classic sci-fi pictures.

A couple of nights back I observed a woman in attempt to operate a pay phone outside a restaurant. The rainfall poured, and per her mildly frustrated demeanor, the call didn’t seem to connect.

The encounter stirred a recurring train of thought from several years back. I then imagined other services available for the public booth format (or even a less-private, public-facing machine): public transport solicitor (Uber, for instance), email/chat/messenger client, computerized navigation - these being the immediate cases.

Concerning strictly public-facing machinery, Internet cafes already cater to the role; and so do public computers at libraries or charming hotel lobbies.

But I specifically envision something more restricted to one of the above applications: in function and in interface - something privacy conscientious - and something with easier access to the service, via an ATM-like scannable card or login authentication.

All of this essentially hints at another variety of a ubiquitous, specialized, and seamlessly approachable computer terminal.

I don’t imagine it too conceptually different from the ATM machines at banks/grocery stores/pharmacies/malls, or the ample variety of specialized machinery at bars or diners: the Jukebox, the casual pinball/arcade/(the degenerate) slot machine, the photo-selfie booth.

If only the preference for the public computer over the mobile smartphone rivaled that of the vending machine. Though personally, I don’t care for any but the coffee dispensing type, too rarely encountered outside Japan. Then again, maybe it’s for my own good. Do I really want an addiction dispensable at every somber street corner?

Along that territory, I’ve also recalled the music listening booths seen in older films: private booths with a Vinyl of even a CD player to enjoy an album or two from among the local selection. Romantic. These days, however, I hold little hope in finding such a booth at any half-reputable commercial joint.

Or have any of you such an amenity at a music store/library/cafe around your neighborhood of a select city or country? I’m also curious of the variety of ‘booths’ you encounter in your daily lives. Do let me know.

Questions, comments? Connect.