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Pickle Me This

May 12, 2010

So what is to be done with phone boxes

From “The Person in the Phone Booth” by David Trotter. London Review of Books 32.2:

“So what is to be done with phone boxes? Or, increasingly, without them? Some will no doubt survive, merged imperceptibly into the general fuzz of urban information. Others may enjoy an afterlife as tourist attraction, temporary internet office or excuse for performance art. The rest will vanish. But the question these cubicles have posed for more than a century is as pertinent now as it ever was. How are we to go on being private in public? The lesson to be learned from the history of the phone box is that the construction of privacy in public by physical rather than social and cultural means always tends to excess. The physical structure (box, booth or kiosk) brought about experiences which, although they did not concern telecommunication, became indelibly associated with it. The lesson to be learned from the representation of the phone box in folk memory, and in literature and film, is that we remember the piss and the phlegm, and the hauntedness. There is knowledge in that remembering, knowledge we wouldn’t otherwise have, of what ordinary coexistence in dense populations might actually amount to. We’ll miss out on a lot of inadvertency, both good and bad, if we give up constructing privacy in public by physical means. We may find ourselves in a world in which the boundary between public and private is either non-existent or policed by surveillance and legal constraint. That doesn’t sound to me like much of an improvement on those anxious, savoury minutes spent locked and lit up in the toxic aquarium.”

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