The iconic red phone box has a place in our digital, connected hearts
I have a very amusing memory that would make a great cartoon. My mother running to a public phone box (red) to make sure she could receive a prearranged (!) call.
The stress even for a gap-toothed five-year old was palpable. Would she get to the box before the phone rang? Would someone else already be on the phone? Would there be a queue, and if so, would she be allowed to take her call if the phone rang?
She sprinted across the road and weirdly slipped on a banana skin that was lying in the middle of it. She and I went flying. She sprained her ankle; I cut my knee. The call was never received. And you think mobiles are bad for your health?
I’m reminded of this pre-digital world of communications this week with the somewhat surprising announcement that the red phone box, arguably the most recognisable symbol of Britain around the world, is making a come back for the digital age.
An updated face of a hard-, soft- or medium-boiled Brexit perhaps?
The red K2 phone box, designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, were first rolled out in 1926, with 36, 000 K6s installed around the UK a decade later. Over the ensuing decades, phone kiosks slowly fell into decline with the majority of the red boxes being removed or replaced by uninspiring BT branded versions.
However this year, New World Payphones will be installing updated versions of the classic K2 kiosk throughout London and the UK. The new phone kiosks will be providing high-speed wi-fi connection, interactive touch-screen journey planners, local information services and good old fashioned calls. In the spirit of the times too, for every red phone box removed or replaced, a tree will be planted near the phone box site, presumably to stop people/dogs weeing in the kiosk itself (I recall those distinctive smells of old).
On a visit to Singapore last year, I was taken to a smart bus stop. It had WI-FI, interactive maps, a cycle park, a swing and art; it even had several Mac USB cables for charging up your phones. It was practically an outdoor B&B, and it would remain amazing because the vandals in Singapore are repressed.
I’m channeling my old phone box stress again. I know that for these new shiny red K2s, fitted out like the Tardis, they aren’t going to withstand our vandals, no matter what helpful technology is installed.
It wasn’t so long ago that standing in a queue waiting to make a phone call was what most of us did. In 50 years again, what part of the infrastructure of national life today will be reimagined for the quantum age?
Answers on a digital postcard please.