8 Phone Booths of The Future (Of the Past)

New York phone booths, once ubiquitous across the city, will soon be no more. On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to replace every pay phone in NYC—there are around 8,400—with WiFi hotspots. Each of these slender kiosks will provide free Internet access for up to 250 devices, and will also allow users to make gratis domestic calls via cell phones connected to the network.

The city hopes to eventually install 10,000 of these pillars, none of which will offer a sliding glass door, coin tray, or dangling chained phone book. The phone booth as we know it is on its last legs, but its death has been in the works for decades. The following inventions sought to either replace, improve upon, or merely repurpose the shell of classic phone booths.

1. Video Conference Booth

Phone booths looked to be a thing of the past as early as 1930, when The New York Times teased the development of a revolutionary new "sight-sound television system" that was a precursor to video chat. The paper explains:

"Suppose that a transcontinental wire or radio circuit is in use and a person in New York wishes to speak with a friend in San Francisco by television so they can see each other. They step into television-telephone booths which are about the size of an ordinary phone booth. They turn in swivel chairs and face the screen, about a foot square. The faces are rapidly scanned by a mild beam of blue light which reflects from their faces to the photoelectric cells and give rise to the current which transmit their image to the distant booth."

2. Chore Booth

In 1960, Westinghouse announced a new technology that would connect a house's appliances to a "dial control" system that would let you call in orders from any phone booth. As the Times explained, “One can sit down in a Los Angeles phone booth and cook a steak, wash the laundry, defrost the refrigerator, or switch the lights on in a New York apartment."

The future is someone turning on the gas range by calling the wrong number and burning down your house.

3. Phone Booth Vending Machine

This patent application, filed in 2010, wanted to turn pay phones into vending machine-hybrids that would dispense products while offering telephone service.

The inventor theorized, "pay phone[s] today [are] obligated by law regulations for providing and enabling accessibility of emergency calls as necessary public service to all people..Mobile phone made pay phone service neglected. Pay phone[s] must offer additional service to the market to provide answers market is demanding."

Make a phone call on your mobile device without eating a Twix, or make a phone call in a phone booth while eating a Twix. The choice seems pretty obvious.

4. Family-Style Restaurant Multi-Media Booth

This behemoth wanted to combine restaurant and phone booths, add "satellite TV, cable, broadcast TV, computer programs and gaming, internet access," and then connect them with other similar booths to "promote high quality video conferencing dining." If it sounds expensive, don't worry—"the cost for videoconferencing can be reclaimed in the price of the food and/or beverages." You mean to tell me this cheeseburger costs $39.99 and you'll broadcast video of me eating it? Yes, please!

5. Phone Booth That Charges Cell Phones

This Chinese invention is the result of seeing a market trend and then providing the very first solution that comes to mind. "The utility model provides a mobile phone charging function [in] public telephone booths, to solve the problem of low utilization of public telephone booths the rise."

It's worth noting that the kiosks New York plans on installing will feature charging stations for mobile devices.

6. Wireless, Booth-less Pay Phone

It's a pay phone, but without a wire. The patent application provides no more information, nor does it answer questions like, "What's to prevent people from walking away with the pay phone?" and, "Where do the quarters go?"

7. Drive-Thru Phone Booth

While not the most prescient idea at the time, had this 1992 invention that combined combustion engine-powered travel with tethered land lines come out in the '50s, it would have been all the rage.

8. Nitrogen Tire Inflation System

This proposed use for old phone booths makes sense, although it's doubtful New York City would want to convert 8,400 decommissioned pay phones into nitrogen dispensers.

6 Things Americans Should Know About Net Neutrality

Net neutrality is back in the news, as Ajit Pai—the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and a noted net neutrality opponent—has announced that he plans to propose sweeping deregulations during a meeting in December 2017. The measures—which will fundamentally change the way consumers and businesses use and pay for internet access—are expected to pass the small committee and possibly take effect early in 2018. Here's a brief explanation of what net neutrality is, and what the debate over it is all about.


Net neutrality is a principle in the same way that "freedom of speech" is. We have laws that enforce net neutrality (as we do for freedom of speech), but it's important to understand that it is a concept rather than a specific law.


Fundamentally, net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to prioritize one kind of data traffic over another. This also means they cannot block services purely for business reasons.

To give a simple example, let's say your ISP also sells cable TV service. That ISP might want to slow down your internet access to competing online TV services (or make you pay extra if you want smooth access to them). Net neutrality means that the ISP can't limit your access to online services. Specifically, it means the FCC, which regulates the ISPs, can write rules to prevent ISPs from preferring certain services—and the FCC did just that in 2015.

Proponents often talk about net neutrality as a "level playing field" for online services to compete. This leaves ISPs in a position where they are providing a commodity service—access to the internet under specific FCC regulations—and that is not always a lucrative business to be in.


In 2014 and 2015, there was a major discussion of net neutrality that led to new FCC rules enforcing net neutrality. These rules were opposed by companies including AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon. The whole thing came about because Verizon sued the FCC over a previous set of rules and ended up, years later, being governed by even stricter regulations.

The opposing companies see net neutrality as unnecessary and burdensome regulation that will ultimately cost consumers in the end. Further, they have sometimes promoted the idea of creating "fast lanes" for certain kinds of content as a category of innovation that is blocked by net neutrality rules.


In support of those 2015 net neutrality rules were companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, Vimeo, and Yahoo. These companies often argue that net neutrality has always been the de facto policy that allowed them to establish their businesses—and thus in turn should allow new businesses to emerge online in the future.

On May 7, 2014, more than 100 companies sent an open letter to the FCC "to express our support for a free and open internet":

Over the past twenty years, American innovators have created countless Internet-based applications, content offerings, and services that are used around the world. These innovations have created enormous value for Internet users, fueled economic growth, and made our Internet companies global leaders. The innovation we have seen to date happened in a world without discrimination. An open Internet has also been a platform for free speech and opportunity for billions of users.


Ajit Pai, who was one of the recipients of that open letter above and is now Chairman of the FCC, quoted Emperor Palpatine from Return of the Jedi when the 2015 rules supporting net neutrality were first codified. (At the time he was an FCC Commissioner.) Pai said, "Young fool ... Only now, at the end, do you understand." His point was that once the rules went into effect, they could have the opposite consequence of what their proponents intended.

The Star Wars quote-off continued when a Fight for the Future representative chimed in. As The Guardian wrote in 2015 (emphasis added):

Referring to Pai's comments Evan Greer, campaigns director at Fight for the Future, said: "What they didn't know is that when they struck down the last rules we would come back more powerful than they could possibly imagine."


The Star Wars quotes above get at a key point of the net neutrality debate: Pai believes that net neutrality stifles innovation. He was quoted in 2015 in the wake of the new net neutrality rules as saying, "permission-less innovation is a thing of the past."

Pai's statement directly contradicts the stated position of net neutrality proponents, who see net neutrality as a driver of innovation. In their open letter mentioned above, they wrote, "The Commission’s long-standing commitment and actions undertaken to protect the open Internet are a central reason why the Internet remains an engine of entrepreneurship and economic growth."

In December 2016, Pai gave a speech promising to "fire up the weed whacker" to remove FCC regulations related to net neutrality. He stated that the FCC had engaged in "regulatory overreach" in its rules governing internet access.

For previous coverage of net neutrality, check out our articles What Is Net Neutrality? and What the FCC's Net Neutrality Decision Means.

Live Smarter
This AI Tool Will Help You Write a Winning Resume

For job seekers, crafting that perfect resume can be an exercise in frustration. Should you try to be a little conversational? Is your list of past jobs too long? Are there keywords that employers embrace—or resist? Like most human-based tasks, it could probably benefit from a little AI consultation.

Fast Company reports that a new start-up called Leap is prepared to offer exactly that. The project—started by two former Google engineers—promises to provide both potential minions and their bosses better ways to communicate and match job needs to skills. Upload a resume and Leap will begin to make suggestions (via highlighted boxes) on where to snip text, where to emphasize specific skills, and roughly 100 other ways to create a resume that stands out from the pile.

If Leap stopped there, it would be a valuable addition to a professional's toolbox. But the company is taking it a step further, offering to distribute the resume to employers who are looking for the skills and traits specific to that individual. They'll even elaborate on why that person is a good fit for the position being solicited. If the company hires their endorsee, they'll take a recruiter's cut of their first year's wages. (It's free to job seekers.)

Although the service is new, Leap says it's had a 70 percent success rate landing its users an interview. The rest is up to you.

[h/t Fast Company]


More from mental floss studios