When I asked my 11- and 13-year-old neighbors what a pay phone was, the 11-year-old responded, “is that when you get your bill in the mail?” and the 13-year-old said, “Ohhhh yeah, I’ve think I’ve heard of those, there’s one somewhere in Oakland!” So, unsurprisingly, when the Wall Street Journal visited some pay phones in Manhattan, they found out that most people just thought they were free public urinals. Well, they are, but they’re also old timey cellphones, and most people haven’t used one in years — or maybe ever.
Even in the best of times, the iPhone is the world’s fucking worst phone, and when shit turns to shit, all cellphones might as well be bagels (but worse because you can’t eat them). In times like these, nothing’s more reliable than the sturdy pay phone.
Natural disasters tend to vindicate the public pay phone. With their clunky bodies mounted high and sometimes behind glass stalls, they generally remain serviceable during power outages, even amid flooding. When times get tough, in fact, the biggest challenge is often keeping the devices free of coin overloads.
"Phones that normally do two dollars a day are taking in $50 a day," says Peter Izzo of Van Wagner Communications, one of 13 local pay-phone-operating franchises. "In times of distress, the people of the city love them."
Roughly 12,000 public pay phones still exist in New York City, down from about 35,000 two decades ago, but the number will likely decline in October 2014, when contracts expire for 13 of the companies who own them.
Of course, keeping pay phones around, with their urinal-vibe and shitty audio, is far from ideal. Which, I think begs the question, what is ideal in an emergency situation? Should we be working on new infrastructure for when crisis’ hits? With Global Warming and overpopulation making disasters of larger magnitudes imminent (sorry to get all dooms day on you but, if the super-storm fits), what’s gonna be the best way to get in touch with the people who matter most when it matters most? Ideas welcome, the floor is yours. And if you’re the person who comes up with that technology, you’re free to use that “matters most” stuff in your advertising, all I want is a mere 50 percent of your sales. Hey, when the resource wars begin, we’re all gonna have to get a little resourceful.