Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- For the 2002 movie, see Phone Booth (movie).
A telephone booth (telephone box or telephone kiosk) is a small structure furnished with a payphone and designed for a telephone user's convenience. Such a booth usually has a door to provide privacy and a window to let others know if the booth is in use. The booth may be furnished with a printed directory of local telephone numbers, and a booth in a formal setting such as a hotel may be furnished with paper and pen and even a seat. An outdoor booth may be made of metal and plastic to withstand the elements and heavy use, while an indoor booth may have more elaborate architecture and furnishings. Most outdoor booths feature the name and logo of the telephone service provider to provide immediate recognizability in unfamiliar surroundings and thus achieve a branding effect.
The telephone booth became common in industrialized countries in the 1910s. Starting in the 1980s pay telephones were less and less commonly placed in booths. In many areas where they were once common, telephone booths have now been completely replaced by non-enclosed pay phones. Many locations that provide pay phones mount the phones on kiosks rather than in booths — this relative lack of privacy and comfort discourages lengthy calls in high-demand areas such as airports.
Special equipment installed in some telephone booths allows a caller to use a computer, a portable fax machine, or a telecommunications device for the deaf.
Paying for the call
The user of the booth pays for the call by depositing coins into a slot on the telephone or by entering a payment code on the telephone's keypad. Some pay phones are equipped with a card reader that allows a caller to make payment with a credit card. A caller who possesses no means of payment may have the phone company's operator ask the call recipient if the recipient is willing to make payment for the call; this is known as "reversing the charges". It is also possible to place a call to a phone booth if the intended recipient is known to be waiting at the booth, however not all phone booths allow incoming calls. Long before "computer hacking" was a common phenomenon, creative mischief-makers devised tactics for obtaining free phone usage through a variety of techniques, including several for defeating the electro-mechanical payment mechanisms of telephone booths--early methods of phone phreaking.
The increasing use of cellular phones has led to a decreased demand for pay telephones, but the increasing use of portable computers is leading to a new kind of service. In 2003, service provider Verizon announced that they would begin offering wireless computer connectivity in the vicinity of their phone booths in Manhattan. This allows a computer user to connect with remote computer services by means of a short-range radio stationed within the booth. The caller pays for usage by means of a pre-arranged account code stored inside the caller's computer. Wireless access is motivating telephone companies to place wireless stations at locations that have traditionally hosted telephone booths, but stations are also appearing in new kinds of locations such as libraries, cafes, and trains.
A rise in vandalism in certain regions has prompted several companies to manufacture simpler booths with extremely strong pay phones. The simplification has often led to the disappearance of the built-in Telephone desk which had been provided to give a writing surface for customers.
The telephone booth in culture
The concept of the telephone booth is a useful metaphor in storytelling. In Stanley Kubrick's 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, a scientist journeying to the moon uses a pay phone to communicate with his daughter on earth, showing movie audiences that an act as prosaic as telephoning one's daughter remain part of the human condition regardless of mankind's exploration of the universe. Although this telephone booth is futuristic enough to travel through space and feature a live video link with Dr. Floyd's daughter, the matter of payment remains a timeless issue as the phone dutifully displays the charges afterward.
In Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 film The Birds, actress Tippi Hedren is trapped in a phone booth as birds try to attack her and cause havoc in the town around her. Here we see the director questioning man's place in nature because the birds are in control on the outside and the human being is trapped in a glass cage. Instead of facilitating communication, this telephone booth isolates the character from all human contact.
In the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, the title character's vehicle for traversing space and time was designed to take the shape of any desired object, but the circuitry for achieving this effect malfunctioned while the vehicle had the shape of what some non-British and younger views assume is a telephone booth, but is actually a classic British police call box; a special telephone intended only for the use of police officers or for civilians in emergencies.
In the 1960s TV series Get Smart, the CONTROL headquarters was located in the basement of a building, accessible via a telephone booth. This method of access was seen in the opening credits of most episodes.
Superman and his anthropomorphic parody Underdog have often been depicted as changing from their secret identities into their superhero counterparts in telephone booths. Phone booths are not the most practical of places for effecting a change of costume for those unendowed with superpowers. Even the superheroes can be confounded — in the 1978 film Superman, Christopher Reeve's Superman comically discovers during an emergency that the local pay phones are the open-kiosk style.
The 1972 short film La Cabina (IMDB link) directed by Antonio Mercero features a man trapped inside a telephone booth. The initially light-hearted Spanish made film (which features no dialogue) has a chilling conclusion.
The 1989 film Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure featured the title characters traveling through time and space in a telephone booth, collecting historical figures. These historical figures travelled back to California with them in the telephone booth, despite their inability to all comfortably fit inside the booth--a reference to the late 1950's practice of "telephone booth stuffing".
In comedy, the confinement of a person within a small space is used for a slapstick effect while the transparent walls allow the caller to see a variety of threats to his well-being: oncoming vehicles, villains prepared to harm the caller, angry spouses or clients, long lines of waiting callers, and so on. In drama, the caller's exposure outdoors and the potential anonymity of the remote party are used to communicate vulnerability and mystery — this is particularly emphasized in the 2003 movie Phone Booth. In love stories, a depiction of an anguished conversation from a telephone booth serves as a metaphor for separation.
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