A digital telegram for your Monday

In the UK, Dixons have bought a company which sells mobile phones. The company is called Carphone Warehouse.

If you’re younger than 40, you might be aware that mobile phones once looked like this:

Motorola DynaTAC

That’s the Motorola DynaTAC, with engineer Martin Cooper who made the first mobile phone call. The DynaTAC went on sale in 1984.

Before that, there were even larger semi-mobile phones called carphones. They consisted of three parts: a handset, which generally looked like the DynaTAC; a control panel which was mounted into the car dashboard; and a box the size of a small suitcase which often went in the trunk of the car and contained the actual phone circuitry.

German carphone

Carphones started to get introduced in the late 1950s. By the 1970s, they were a key business tool for any business tool. By the late 80s, they were deader than flared trousers. So I find it mysterious that Carphone Warehouse had decided to keep the word “carphone” in their name for a good 25 years past when carphones ceased to be a thing. It’s a bit like having a hi-fi company called Gramophone Shack or Audio Cassette Hut. Even more bizarre is that Dixons are going to keep the word “carphone” in the name of the new company.

Yesterday we were out walking and passed a rectangular metal post set in some concrete. I recognized it as the remains of something familiar, and tried to remember the word for the thing. Phone box? No, there was no box, and that’s what they were called in England. Phone booth? No, this was freestanding with no booth attached. Kiosk? Maybe, but I didn’t think that was the word people used to use. Finally, we remembered: payphone. It must have once looked like this:


Which made me think: When was the last time I had actually used a payphone?

I got a mobile phone almost immediately after settling in the US, so I’m pretty sure it would have had to have been 1996 or earlier. So, probably about 20 years ago.

Some quick searching reveals that the major US phone companies quit the payphone business about 5 years ago. Payphones stopped being a thing, and I hadn’t even noticed until I noticed the corpse of one.

I’m old.