Friday, 28 August 2009

Eulogy for the Phone Booth

It's still standing. Somehow. There's not a shard of glass left on the structure and the doors were removed a long time ago. It's no longer a shelter, no longer a square metre of space you could go to talk without distractions and yet it is still functional. Pick up the receiver and after a silent second the repetitive purr of the dial tone still sounds in your ear. Listen carefully though and you'll hear the final breaths of the condemned. The booth knows that it is finished, carrying a sickness that nobody wants to treat. Soon it will be taken away and buried.

It had a good life. We all have memories of important conversations we have had on public payphones, perhaps talking to loved ones from afar whilst the windows of the booth steamed up around us. Now it is obsolete. We have moved on. We communicate from miniature phone booths in our pockets or on other forms of social media, and no longer want to buy cards and queue in the cold before making an important call.

"What would the cinema have been like without me?" it asks. It gave anonymity to the wicked and trapped the innocent. It was the principal character in a film not even ten years ago, but that may as well be ancient history today. It's a washed up old actor now and nobody would give it creedence anymore. Younger, smaller characters have taken over, rapid and mobile and completely disposable. There will be no comeback.

"Look at me" it asks, "take one last long look for soon I will be gone and you won't even remember that I existed. You certainly won't remember what I looked like".

"I will always remember you" I say, "but I don't want to remember you like this".

9 comments:

Starman said...

One of my fondest memories of Paris is from the very first time. I was sitting in a bistrot having a baguette and café, when a little white van drove up. The driver got out his cleaning materials and proceeded to wash down the cabine téléphonique. I had never before (or since, for that matter) seen anything like that.

Lenox Ave said...

I miss the old phone booths. I loved the privacy and the feeling of being in your little world on a street corner.

Badaude said...

Many Paris phone booths have an active second life as makeshift pissoirs...

Badaude said...

...and, on a different note, I will always remember them from the movie Ascenseur pour l'echafaud for the scene where Jeanne Moreau desparately tries to contact her lover.

Cergie said...

Un très beau texte pour une réflexion très juste : pourquoi des téléphones publiques alors que l'individualisme se fait forcené ?
Et les relations immédiates...
Lorsque j'étais étudiante, j'appellais mes parents depuis une cabine à la poste, en PCV. Parfois une fois par semaine, parfois une fois par mois.
Alors tant pis pour les personnes qui comme moi n'ont pas de téléphone mobile (ni de montre).

Gina V said...

I, too, have had to make a momentous call from a phonebooth facing the Atlantic ocean in Brittany earlier this year...an apprehensive call fraught with receiver-gripping nervous tension and possible life-changing drama...
When I hung up, I took a deep breath as I emerged from the cabine... I walked across to the quai and gazed calmly across the soothing sea in the fading evening light...

Adam said...

Lenox, Cergie, Gina: You all sum up the unique attraction of the phone booth. A phone call was an event, and the booth was the stage. Before the call there was a build up of excitement, stress, fear or dread, with a seemingly endless stretch of time before the person picked up at the other end. You were then cocooned in that little stuffy space for the duration of the call. When the receiver was placed back in position the moment was over and you could go back to the real world. It is no wonder that it was used so often in the cinema. There is no drama in a mobile phone call.

Adam said...

On a related note, I was in England recently and although the famous old red metallic booths have almost disappeared, there are quite a few of a new generation where people can send text messages or e-mails too. In France though, a country that likes to see itself as being at the forefront of telecommunications technology, it seems that they have already signed the death warrant for the phone booth.

What is the situation in your country?

Thiruppathy Raja said...
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