Why public phones still exist

My superpower has always been finding new uses for old tech. In the late 90s I dusted off the venerable NNTP server, which had been the backbone of the Usenet, and turned it into my team’s Slack. In the late 2000s I used iCalendar to make citywide event calendars. In the late 2010s I went deep into SQL.

It’s always intensely pragmatic. But also, I can’t deny, whimsical.

In that spirit, I offer you the public pay phone at the Pinnacles Visitor Center. I stayed in that campground on a road trip just before the election. Given the tense political and epidemiological situation, I’d promised to message home regularly. There was no cell service in the park so I headed over to the office. It was closed, so I sat on the bench and connected to their WiFi. Or tried to. You could connect, sometimes, but you couldn’t move any data. The router was clearly in need of a reboot.

The only option left was the public phone. I can’t remember the last time I used one. Most people alive today have, perhaps, never used one. But there it was, so I gave it a shot.

Once upon a time, you could pick up the handset, dial 0 for operator, and place a so-called collect (charge-reversed) call. Now dialing 0 gets you nowhere.

The instructions taped to the phone (in the 90s I’m guessing) say you can call an 800 number, or use a calling card. I remember calling cards, I had one once. Not a thing lately.

And then there was this: “Dial 611 for help.”

Me: 611

611: Hello, this is Steve.

Me: I’m at the Pinnacles Visitor Center trying to send a message.

Steve: Use the WiFi.

Me: I can’t, it’s broken.

Steve: Huh, that’s interesting. Let me see if I can reboot the router.

And he did. So there you have it. The public phone still provides a valuable service. Its mission has evolved over the years. Nowadays, it exists to summon Steve the IT guy who can fix the WiFi by turning it off and on again.

Works like a charm!

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One thought on “Why public phones still exist

  1. It’s like the game of Adventure, you try all the nouns with all the verbs and eventually find your way to the next step on the maze ;^)

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