Yes, there's nothing like reaching out and touching someone from a phone booth. They used to be everywhere, but they are now rare coin-operated curiosities. CBS's Mo Rocca looks into the history of the once-ubiquitous phone booth, and of the wi-fi kiosks that are now replacing them in New York City.
Watch the video and answer the questions below.
1. What kind of birds attacked Tippi Hedren in The Birds?
2. What question did Peter Ackerman’s son ask him one day?
3. What does ‘1889’ refer to?
4. How many pay phones were there in America in the 1990’s?
5. What does the Payphone Project consist of?
6. What services are the kiosks replacing the phone booths in New York offering?
7. How much does a telephone call cost in the remaining telephone booths in Manhattan?
It’s Sunday Morning on CBS and here again it’s Jane Pauley.
Those tumbling boxes in the 1980 film Aeroplane are wooden telephone booths like this shinier 1950’s era model with its rotary phone. For some of our younger viewers, a phone booth might as well be a monolith from another world. With Mo Rocca, we remember the good old days...
[What is this made of?] Some of you may recognize this coin-operated curiosity: [It’s ringing! Hey! Where are you, it’s Mo.] It’s called a phone booth. Phone booths used to be everywhere, providing an office for agent Maxwell Smart and a sanctuary for Tippi Hedren from killer seagulls in The Birds. Now, they’re so rare that Peter Ackerman wrote a children’s book about this one, one of only four remaining outdoor phone booths in all of Manhattan.
I walked past this phone booth every day with my kid when he was three years old, and at a certain point, he said to me, ‘Why is that phone in a box?’ And I realized that he didn’t know what a phone booth was, which is so bizarre!
Are you coming to use a phone booth?
Are you serious?
For kids, the phone booth has become something of a novelty.
Kids today hanging on the phone all day long.
But grown-ups [It’s a phone booth.] can’t be bothered.
Now you can call anyone but it sounds better if you use the pay phone.
Would you like to use one? [No.] Could you make a call? You can call anyone with it! Okay.
The first public coin-operated pay phone appeared in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1889. The first phone booth debuted in the early 1900s. The 1970s brought those semi-enclosed pedestal-style pay phones which, for most of us, Superman included, found lacking. By the 1990s there were nearly three million pay phones in America. But now just a small fraction remain.
Hi! Is this Mark Thomas?
Hi, this is Mark, yes.
Mark, I think this is far easier if we do this face to face.
Oh, look at that.
I’m Mo, I was just talking on the phone.
Mark Thomas created the Payphone Project, an online database that keeps track of the remaining pay phones around the world.
What did the payphone do to deserve this?
Well, the payphone didn’t do anything; the cell phone came along.
That’s right, our phones got smart, so smart they began putting pay phones out of business.
Do you see the cell phone as sort of an arriviste, as someone that sort of came along and stole the thunder of the payphone?
It stole its relevance, and it made communication so simple and so trivial even, that this became a laborious way to make a phone call.
In New York, and maybe coming to a city near you, pay phones are being replaced by kiosks offering phone calls, free wifi, Internet service, and a port to charge your cell phone.
Aren’t people with their cell phones enough?
Jen Hensely is with the company installing them.
Well, people are on their phones all the time, and this allows them a free way to offload their data plans for people who don’t have access to mobile plans or data. We’re offering that for free. So we think it’s a really important public service.
I approached this sleek and shiny upstart gingerly and called the only person whose number he actually still remembers: his mother.
I’m calling you from a special free phone on the street. You’re on TV right now!
Oh! What channel?
CBS, Ma. The show that I’m on. CBS Sunday Morning.
Okay, okay. I’m going to look.
No, wait, Ma, you’re not on live right now. Are you still there?
My mother hung up on me, but I can’t blame the kiosk for that. Yet even with all these bells and whistles, my heart belonged to the old-timey phone booth.
I’ll make a call.
I knew you would! I knew you’d come around!
You can call anyone.
Yes, there’s nothing like reaching out and touching someone from a phone booth. Oh, and it turns out Manhattan’s four remaining outdoor phone booths are free of charge.
Now everyone will want to use the pay phone!
So, yes, we got our quarters back.
1 (killer) seagulls
2 Why is that phone in a box?
3 the year when the first pay phone appeared
4 almost three million
5 an online database that keeps track of the remaining pay phones around the world
6 phone calls, free wifi, Internet service, and a port to charge your cell phone
7 Nothing, they are free of charge