A Telecom phone box.

An ode to the humble payphone

Opinion: An ode to the humble payphone.

You’ve been with us here in New Zealand since 1910. You’ve watched the demise of your cousin the landline. The stratospheric fame and success of your more popular sister, the cellphone. Her reassignment to become a smartphone and how she used that transformation to turn on you and render you near redundant. You’ve been burned by the burner but you never complained. 

An ode to the humble payphone
Fare thee well glass case of emotion. Thanks for the good times and looking out for me in the bad.
00:00 / 03:23

You’re about to undergo your own transformation oh humble payphone but unlike your makeover in 1993, when you got all gussied up and showed us you were still queen accepting your fancy credit cards, this time will be different. 

It won’t even be like your 2013 zhuzh up which, to be honest, felt a bit weekend at Bernie's - you were barely struggling through and being held up by some new WiFi capabilities, it wasn’t really fooling anyone. 

No, this next transformation is different. In fact, let's call it what it is. You’re being replaced. Maps, touchscreens, community information, and adding insult to injury a USB port to charge the new phones who were the architects of your demise. 

So I want to say thank you. In the hundred and 12 years, we’ve had you, you’ve been loyal, steadfast, sturdy and reliable. 

Sometimes we’ve treated you terribly, smashing your glass, burning your phone handle, trying to pry open your coin box, peeing on your feet. Appalling. I’m sorry people have been so rude. 

Thank you for putting up with us. 

You didn’t complain when your big red brother the London phone box got all the attention. Everyone wanting a picture with them on family holidays. You didn’t tell on them to your parents when big red started letting it get to his head - going off the rails, getting around town, covered in pamphlets advertising all the naked prostitutes he’d been a big part of calling for phone sex. 

You didn’t complain when forced to watch your world-weary but caring phone box older sister in New York as her network of 8000 was slowly dismantled. Told she was obsolete. Replaced by wifi kiosks which we all know isn’t really her. You shed a single, stoic tear as her last public payphone was taken from Times Square yesterday. You know what this means for you - you’ve always followed in her footsteps.

For the last hundred and 12 years, you’ve meant something different but always profound for each generation of Kiwis. I can’t imagine the awe of you in 1910. The conversations you’ve heard, the lives you’ve saved. 

As a teenager of the 90s, you were always there for me. A safe place to help get me home at night with a call to mum, a rendezvous point to both organise and meet at with friends, a far too transparent haven to pash boys, a shelter from the rain. Thank you oh humble phone box. 

Your family has been a touchstone of formative pop culture references. Where would Bill and Ted be without you? Dr Who would just be a dude stuck in a single place in time and space, and Superman would just be boring old Clark Kent without somewhere to change, don't even get me started on Dirty Harry, all I’ll say is Clint Eastwood owes you his career, the same goes for Bruce Willis after Die Hard with a Vengeance and without you, Keanu wouldn’t know there was a bomb on the bus. 

I think Anchor Man Ron Burgundy sums up best how I’m feeling right now - when he made a distraught call from a phone booth, he described you as ‘a glass case of emotion’

So fare thee well glass case of emotion. Thanks for the good times and looking out for me in the bad. 

I’m sorry we’re too shortsighted to realise you’re still there for people and that a map with a USB socket will never replace you and what you’ve done for us for over a century. 

I’ll never forget. Thank you humble payphone.