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The phone booth: 'society’s great unused invention'

The phone booth: 'society’s great unused invention'


Could phone booths be repurposed to let cell phone users talk without bothering other patrons in public places?

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After years of ubiquity, enclosed phone booths have largely been phased out of use — one recent count, for example, found that there were only four of the booths left in Manhattan. But Aaron Skirboll doesn't see the shift to cell phones as any reason to abandon the idea of a private space for conversation. Frustrated with a shift in mores that allows people to talk and text with impunity in restaurants, shops, or libraries, he talks to proprietors about how they deal with public phone use. Skirboll concludes that a "cell booth" might be a simple way to direct users to keep their gadgets behind closed doors.

Phones can certainly be distracting, and there's little more annoying than hearing a ringtone at a performance or event. But we're not convinced that the phones themselves are, as Skirboll claims, merely a kind of security blanket designed to ensconce users in a safe, familiar world. For every person who texts with a friend instead of acknowledging the cashier in front of them, there's someone who uses their phone to answer a tweet from a new follower halfway around the world. And if checking a smartphone in the presence of strangers is egotistical and isolating, what of reading a newspaper on the subway? We'd be happy to have a comfortable place to go answer a call, but there's no reason we can't bring back the phone booth without condemning the very concept of mobile technology.

Image Credit: Scott McMurren (Flickr)