Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Charge Aught!!!: Remember Pay Phones?

In 2007, I took a short road trip from my school in Ohio to go visit a friend in Indiana. It was dark and the dead of winter, and for some reason I did not have sense enough to charge my cell phone before I left. To make a long story short, my cell went dead, I got lost, and I found myself throwing change into a ratty old pay phone standing in a snow-swept parking lot in a grim looking part of the Hoosier State. I managed to pull my friend's phone number out of the dregs of my memory, get a hold of him, and get myself back on track.

My lack of navigational skills aside, this event stands out in my mind for two reasons - it is the last time in my life I used a pay phone, and it is the last time in my life that I relied on nothing but my own brain cells to remember someone's phone number.

Just ten years ago, pay phones used to be a ubiquitous sight in even the smallest of towns, but they've all but disappeared. Occasionally you see a row of phone booths at an airport, but they are usually dusty and covered with cobwebs, ignored as travelers walk by chatting away on their new-fangled cell phones. For the most part, they're largely gone from city corners, parking lots and shopping malls. They're unnecessary.

The phone-scape has changed a good deal in the past ten years. In 2000, "long distance" was still a very real thing. Phone companies spent loads of advertising trying to convince the consumer they had the best long distance plan. People used calling cards for domestic calls. And I, a gangly fourteen year old who biked around town, relied on pay phones to call my parents to pick me up from the movies, the pool, the mall.

Now, freed from the shackles of land lines and even roaming charges, we have the ability to call anybody anywhere without even having to memorize their number. Pay phones seem old-fashioned, even quaint, the product of an age where people still carried not only cash, but coins wherever they went. They're not gone yet, but they're certainly an endangered species.

The important question for the future, of course, is where is Clark Kent going to change into Superman now?