The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

With the ubiquity of cellphones across the country and across class lines, it's inevitable that public payphones, once a fixture in places from restaurants to rural gas stations, are dying a pretty quick death.

It really is the passing of an era; public phones have been around for, what, a bit over a hundred years? Phone booths used to be regular and distinctive sights around cities; take London's famous red phone stations, for instance. Now they, and most other pay phones, are soon to be yesterday's news.

I really like the closing anecdote to this article, where some lady turns up her nose at the idea of having to use a pay phone. It's intimated here that the reason for avoiding a public phone is the stigma of looking low-class or poor. However, the aversion reasoning I've heard has to do with some of the other things mentioned earlier in this piece: public urination, general dirtiness, and the idea of some stranger having touched or breathed on the receiver before you put it against your ear. (Of course, in the pre-cellular days, this never seemed to be a consideration.)

Given all this, it's odd that the advertising space on New York City phonebooths is considered such prime territory. After all, if phone kiosks are supposed to be on the way out, then why contend for them? I'd think Viacom had this in mind when they dumped the properties in the first place. Then again, dense urban areas like NYC might be more profitable for a little while longer, making them viable. But I doubt it, frankly.

Final thought: Whither the Payphone Project?