Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hello? ... Hel-Looo?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hello? ... Hel-Looo?

Article excerpt

My media radar almost missed the story of the loneliest phone booth in the world. By chance, I learned about it while watching the last few minutes of a recent TV newscast, and then did some quick research to get up to speed on the offbeat details.

In case you hadn't heard about this special dialing destination, it was located deep in the Mojave National Preserve in southern California, and was installed back in the 1960s for use by local miners. Several years ago it got publicized on the World Wide Web and developed a cult following. People from all over the planet began ringing up the number, and other ambitious fans started driving out to the remote site so they could answer the incoming calls, which sometimes totaled several hundred per day.

However, the Park Service and phone company were apparently not pleased by the visitors and growing popularity of the site, so last month the loneliest phone booth in the world was abruptly dismantled. This decision outraged booth enthusiasts, and tweaked the interest of numerous news organizations. Reporters across the country shifted into metaphor-overdrive in their efforts to bring symbolic significance to the notion of a solitary public telephone doomed by unexpected stardom.

As much as I'd like to find a larger message here, some kind of societal wake-up call, I'm afraid the demise of the loneliest booth is simply one more confirmation of a trend that's already well known: Pay phones are in trouble, driven into decline by the same cultural and technological changes that have decimated the population of pinball games, penny parking meters, and gumball machines. With more and more Americans using cellular devices, revenues from pay phones are heading downward, and companies don't hesitate to yank their equipment from unprofitable or troublesome locations.

Certainly the loneliest phone booth was not an electronic El Dorado. …

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