The Humble Phone Box

Remember public phones? You so rarely see them anymore. Every new street directory is more out of date, still marking phones that have since been removed (and, unfortunately, misleading people who desperately need a phone). Which only makes it harder to communicate, dammit!

Part of it is a move towards a society where everyone is carrying their phone with them the whole time – mine’s sitting here next to my computer as I type this, for example – but it’s more than that.

It represents a shift in who is responsible for the infrastructure of communication. Public phones, at least in Australia, were installed by a government agency originally. But mobile phones are not. The towers are installed by and owned by various companies; the phones we use are owned by those same companies or by us.

On one level, this makes us all more responsible for our own means of communication: it’s your job to make sure that your phone doesn’t get lost or stolen, and that it’s charged up and connected. On the plus side, this does mean that we are less at the mercy of vandals than we once were, but at what cost?

We now have less responsibility, and less control over our phone networks. When phones were run by a government agency, that agency was (at least in theory) accountable to us through the government. But companies aren’t accountable to anyone except their shareholders – and how many of us hold any shares in the companies that provide our phone services?

We live in an age of unprecedented connectivity, and thus, unprecedented speed, reach and ease of communication. But we also live in an age where that communication is devalued, not by its availability, but by its lack of accountability.

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