Some time ago, I tweeted:
You may laugh at me, but one thing I miss from the pre-cellphone era is calling people from a public phone booth. That moment of isolation.
Your memories of the telephone box experience may vary (if you’re old enough to have such memories, that is). They depend on the place where you live or used to live, and the general state of such a public, yet very private place. Yes, I remember vandalised phone boxes, or opening one and finding a homeless guy taking a nap, or worse. But I also remember certain beautiful telephone boxes with soundproof doors, rotary dial telephones and even a small shelf with the huge phone directory on it. These phone boxes were usually found inside bars and other public areas containing arrays of them.
But that moment of isolation, when you literally shut out all the city’s noise to just hear the person you were calling, was invaluable. Mobile phones have of course brought a series of conveniences: you can be reached anywhere, and in case of emergency you don’t have to look for a public phone. The flip side of being reachable everywhere is that you can talk everywhere, with the unfortunate post-modern side effect that public places are even noisier than before, because more people shout into their phones and sometimes look like crazed insects while they search a quiet spot or some corner with better reception.
I often overhear bits and pieces of conversations produced in such environment. I know it’s not polite to do so, but the fact is that some people talk so loud it’s impossible not to hear them and this kind of degradation in social education always irks me. The fact that we’ve come to a point that if you hush the shouter, you are looked at as if you were the ill-mannered person is utterly absurd.
When chatting with other people or expressing myself online I sometimes get carried away about ‘the old days’ (well, a couple decades ago, really, I’m not that old!), often others see me as some kind of Luddite, rejecting everything new and the progress in general. Not at all. What I do is criticise certain consequences that progress has brought. Mobile phones and smartphones are a fantastic invention, but have also spawned a series of bad, annoying habits people display in public with too much carelessness and disrespect for my tastes. But when I mention this, I’m the old fogey of course.
Today, telephone boxes are disappearing. The vandals have won, mobile phones (shouters included) have won, and I just stop and think about the irony: we’re leaving behind places that were quieter, phone calls that were clearer (the two persons involved could hear each other better) and cheaper, at least the local ones. Tradeoffs, tradeoffs.