Alex Hughes — April 2018… A common sight in public now is that of the person bending over looking down on their phones. It is even more common on a college or high school campus! According to PEW Research, 95% of U.S. adults own a mobile phone meaning that they will have access to calls if the needs arise. However, that means that a small minority of the population are without the ability to make a call if outside their homes. PEW Research has stated that 85% of U.S. adults 65 and older own a mobile phone which is quite a surprise given the popular notion that they are tech resistant. These statistics do show a vast majority of ownership, but there is still benefits of having payphones around if these mobile devices were to run low on battery, or they were to become damaged. Payphones are the backup.
Photos by Alex Hughes
My experience with payphones began when I was traveling around San Diego County during high school. At that time, I did not have a cellphone and was unable to communicate back to my family of my whereabouts. Sometimes, the sun would start to go down, and that was when they really worried. I did not have many options considering the Vista Transit Center and Rodeo Market had busted payphones. In general, they were missing a dial tone and did not have a working transmitter. Even when I got a smartphone, it would run out of battery life, and I would end up having to ask others to call or I would go back to a payphone if I could find one.
The hunt for a payphone can be difficult. Some of the places I imagine them being are not there. I’ve seen some by liquor stores and auto body shops and some in the middle of the sidewalk! Going up to them, you notice that they are quite outdated given the star that says Pacific Bell. Pacific Bell is known more commonly now as AT&T in our region. How long have they been there! In addition to this, some phones don’t even work when you pick them up, or they are missing the handset; the wires potrude from the metal cord. This or the dial tone is almost silent. You could place it right by your ear, and it would be a whisper. I’ve also seen payphones without anything in them! This is the case at California State University San Marcos where the case is there, but there is no phone to use. However, there is a sign that tells you to call 911 in an emergency but how! I find that ironic! These phones are falling apart.
If there are going to be physical payphones then they should be in working order to provide the consumer with the ability to make calls. An empty phonebook or broken handsets make that experience even tougher. Granted, there are not as many callers as there once were, but there still is a use for them in unexpected situations. In the condition they are in now, they appear to be more of a blight to the city. Restoring them will allow them to be of use once again.