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Privacy Communications Technology

Dial P for Privacy: The Phone Booth Is Back (nytimes.com) 110

As mobile phone use exploded and the pay phone was increasingly linked to crime, the booth began to disappear. But things are appear to be changing. From a report: Now, the phone booth -- or at least a variation of it -- is making a modest comeback. When the women-only club and work space The Wing opened its first location in the Flatiron neighborhood of Manhattan in October of 2016, the interior featured marble tables, pink velvet couches, and one small, windowless, reflective glass-doored room dubbed the Phone Booth. One year later, when another location of The Wing opened in Soho, eight built-in, glass-doored call rooms were included in the design. [...]

Other companies that have recently purchased Zenbooths include Volkswagen, Lyft, Meetup and Capital One. The Berkeley, Calif., company was launched in 2016, and its products range from $3,995 (for a standard one-person booth) to $15,995 (for a two-person "executive" booth). The one-person booth is a soundproof, eco-friendly, American-made box that's about 36 inches wide and 34 inches deep, with an insulated glass door, a ventilation fan, power outlets and a skylight -- and it can be assembled in roughly an hour. (It does not, however, contain an actual phone.) Sam Johnson, a co-founder of the company, said it produced "hundreds" of Zenbooths a month in 2017. This year, it's on track to quadruple that production. But he doesn't call them phone booths. "We're manufacturing quiet spaces and privacy," he said.

Zenbooth is not the only free-standing office phone booth in the game. Companies like Cubicall, Nomad, and TalkBox, among others, are offering up solutions to the modern office's privacy problem.

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Dial P for Privacy: The Phone Booth Is Back

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  • Sexism (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    > the women-only club and work space The Wing opened . . .

    This is sexist.

    People would protest a men-only club even though many groups of men have no special access for being male and many women do for being female.

    • by LKM ( 227954 )
      Except that, given how women are apparently treated by men, they have a legitimate reason to have a women-only club. Also, lots of men-only clubs exist.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2018 @11:31AM (#56247019)

    Yep, those 2 person soundproof boxes are definitely going to be used for phone calls and nothing else.

    • It's actually necessary for the planned Superman reboot in which the title character will be a 600 pound green-haired Puerto Rican quadriplegic trans-woman with celiac disease.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Still probably a better Superman movie than we've seen for a while.

        • Wow, blast from the past. Back in 1978 when the *Superman* movie premiered, my local big-screen theater put a phone book in the lobby with some Clark Kent clothes hanging in it...somebody added a pair of pantyhose.

    • by balbeir ( 557475 )
      Put wheels on it and call it a BMW i3
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @11:33AM (#56247025)

    Then its only relationship to a “phone booth” is the rough dimensions. But I suppose that sounds better than calling it a “half closet”.

    So this is how companies who’ve stripped away every vestige of privacy from their employees can pretend to give it back, eh? I bet there are cameras monitoring who goes in, and for how long, though.

    • Yep. At my company, the only place you can find actual phones these days (as opposed to the Skype for Business software phone system) is in such phone booths- which are pretty constantly busy 10am-3pm daily. There are signs that say you're not supposed to use them as offices.

      • Does the Skype-as-phone work ok within the company? Their webex system is complete crap...

        • Yes, most of the time. A few of the overseas calls have gone bad, and every once in a while I need to reboot, but not too terrible. Oh, and I seem to have bandwidth issues over VPN from home- I can use it for screen sharing, voice calling, and IM- Pick Any TWO. Sometimes pick any ONE.

          Of course, Skype for Business requires that you're using a well-maintained Exchange Server forest, on VPN, internal to your company network, which does make a difference. I don't use it for outside the system calls, I go to

    • "Then its only relationship to a “phone booth” is the rough dimensions."

      Exactly, it's just a booth.
      I'll patent a horizontal one that people an use to get buried in.

    • by Luthair ( 847766 )
      Yea, pretty clear this is linked to idiotic spread of open offices.
      • by Thud457 ( 234763 )

        "Where you see tape, I see walls...

        -- Les Nessmen

        Pretty sure your contractor could toss up a row of these [google.com] for considerably less that $4K a pop...

    • So this is how companies who’ve stripped away every vestige of privacy from their employees can pretend to give it back, eh? I bet there are cameras monitoring who goes in, and for how long, though.

      There is no need for cameras or time card machines. Those are surveillance tools from the 90s.

      Between the open floor plan and all the glass walls, it's easy to know who is working less 80 hours a week. And yes, you can check your Facebook, do all your Christmas shopping online, play Clash of whatever, play minesweeper, check your stocks, read the news, and watch cat videos, but please do all of that from the phone booths/semi-closets or from the reception / kitchen / play areas. There is even a stationary C

  • by ganjadude ( 952775 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @11:35AM (#56247039) Homepage
    The cocaine booth
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The masturbation booth.

      It would be a lot more convenient than having to wait for the boss to leave so I can use his office.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      And a place for muscular guys to take their clothes off. Maybe the "women-only club and workspace" would make an exception for that.
  • Agent 86 (Score:5, Informative)

    by ArhcAngel ( 247594 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @11:39AM (#56247055)
    Maxwell Smart and the cone of silence is making a comeback!
  • by silverkniveshotmail. ( 713965 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @11:43AM (#56247073) Journal
    A few companies bought this product and we can declare that the phone booth has returned?

    This feels like a press release, not news.
    • They are actually reasonably popular in certain types of companies. We have two with hard walls for a small office, and I wish we could have more. I am also considering just going with 7x6' offices to be able to give more people a private space to work... but it gets expensive.

  • by Comboman ( 895500 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @11:51AM (#56247125)
    First a history lesson. Cellphones caused Payphones to disappear. Phone Booths started disappearing long before that (there's a scene in the 1979 film Superman where Clark Kent looks around for a place to change into his costume but can only find boothless payphones). The booths were targets of vandalism and the homeless used them as shelters and/or public toilets. That is why they disappeared.

    As for these new booths, the lack of phone isn't the main difference; it's the fact that they are located in private rather than public spaces. They are not in any way a replacement for phone booths, they are really a replacement for the private office space that disappeared when companies started embracing open-plan offices.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This was especially true in the mid 1980s when Reagan de-funded the mental health system, causing a massive increase of chronic, long-term homeless people to be on the streets. Phone booths, which were usable until then, became bathrooms and other spaces. The doors came off, then booths disappeared, just because it didn't help business for a store to have an area constantly smelling of piss.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Not this Reagan myth again. The ACLU is what is responsible for shutting down the mental health system, starting with cases in the 1970s. They're quite proud of it [aclu.org], for some reason. Apparently having crazy people die on the streets from drugs and exposure is better than having them well-fed, sheltered, and medicated.

        • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

          Not this Reagan myth again. The ACLU is what is responsible for shutting down the mental health system, starting with cases in the 1970s. They're quite proud of it [aclu.org], for some reason. Apparently having crazy people die on the streets from drugs and exposure is better than having them well-fed, sheltered, and medicated.

          They're proud of it for a few reasons. We have a long history in the US of involuntarily committing non-crazy people who happen to be "different." Gay folks, radicals, imbeciles, and people who are otherwise inconvenient, like rape victims. Care was horrible, and people who had committed no crimes were subject to horrible tortures to try to "fix" their condition. If you're not a physical danger to others in society, there is no constitutionally-justifiable reason to keep someone in a sanitarium against thei

  • Crime wasn't the primary cause of the disappearance of phone booths. Fat people were. Public phone booths used to have a door for privacy, security and reducing noise then the phone companies didnt want to risk getting sued by fat people getting stuck inside them so they removed all the doors. But since public phone booths are commonly found on busy roads you couldnt hear the person you were talking to and the other person couldnt hear you either without that box around you due to the road noise. Of course,

  • by mapkinase ( 958129 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @12:14PM (#56247247) Homepage Journal

    We desperately need these at work.

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Monday March 12, 2018 @12:25PM (#56247307)

    "...products range from $3,995 (for a standard one-person booth) to $15,995 (for a two-person "executive" booth)"

    So, after you destroyed business privacy by embracing the open-floor plan, your answer is to build obscenely priced closets?

    Kind of makes you wonder how much it would cost to throw up some drywall and mount some doors and you know, give employees the privacy of an office again.

    Or better yet, grow the hell up and learn to properly measure performance and manage employees working remotely. We sure as hell could use a few less million cars on the road every day.

    • by mark-t ( 151149 )
      Most jobs are not amenable to employees working remotely. Only one of mine has ever been. There are numerous practical considerations to make when permitting it, most chief among them being how the company will mitigate damages if the employee's home computer happens to be compromised in some way.
    • So, after you destroyed business privacy by embracing the open-floor plan, your answer is to build obscenely priced closets?

      Well yes. I'm not sure why you think that sounds strange. The companies where the open floor plan concept have failed are the same which don't provide private areas for situations that need it. Are you surprised that the optimum solution is a balance?

    • by CodeHog ( 666724 )
      "properly measure performance and manage employees working remotely" Like that will ever happen. Yes, I'm bitter about being f*cked over because I work remotely. Top rated employee in my group year over year? Check. Passed over for promotion? Double check. So why the f*ck would I want to work my ass off again? For a measly pittance of a pay raise? uncheck.
      • "properly measure performance and manage employees working remotely" Like that will ever happen. Yes, I'm bitter about being f*cked over because I work remotely. Top rated employee in my group year over year? Check. Passed over for promotion? Double check. So why the f*ck would I want to work my ass off again? For a measly pittance of a pay raise? uncheck.

        If you work for a company that requires that amount of ass-kissing face time in order to be properly recognized, perhaps it's time to work for another company.

        In the meantime, remember you could be spending a couple hundred a month on fuel and vehicle maintenance costs to commute 20+ days a week, twice a day. And that doesn't include the reduced stress and health benefits of not dealing with smog-infused traffic every day, or the reduced risk of not becoming one of those 40,000 deaths per year on our roadw

    • Better yet, the active shooter instructions at my office say to hide under your desk or take shelter in a conference room. A conference room either made of glass on 4 sides, or an all glass wall on one side.

      brilliant..

  • Sexist shit (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 12, 2018 @12:35PM (#56247359)

    > women-only club and work space The Wing

    Really? People would throw an absolute shit-fit if there was a "men-only club and work space"

    How TF is this legal?

    • It's legal because you can't make it illegal without making men-only clubs illegal, and some of those have been around for longer than some countries.

      • This goes way back, but at some point the courts ruled that the Rotary clubs couldn't discriminate against women and their ruling pointed out two things, associations with business (which this certainly has) and that they are generally open and not very exclusive, even going so far as to allow non-members in their meetings, I have no idea if that applies or not. In the end the courts won't take any action on this absent someone with standing (how would a man prove his is harmed by this?) making an issue of
  • If they are purpose-building / renovating - and it sounds like it, "...were included in the design...", then you would have thought that a competent architect and contractor could have put something together cheaper.

    Use the money saved to equip each booth with a secure PC / video conference utility..

  • There is no privacy when it comes to phone conversations, whether or not it's in a "private" room. I'm reminded of the Tim Allen skit, the "soundproof room."

    https://youtu.be/J9XhVuoNEe0 [youtu.be]

    You may THINK you have privacy in one of those rooms, but you do not.

  • So? Many otherwise open-plan offices I have worked at in the last decade use to have small rooms for small meetings (such as Scrum), special projects and phone calls.
    These were not products dropped into the "landscape"; these had been part of the office's interior design from the start when it had been planned.

    You do not have phone calls out in the open shared space -- that is just common sense. Too bad that not enough people have it.

  • I want these in airports. Especially in the lounges. Back when they had pay phones, they were at least in a bank against one wall, and you could sit somewhere else to avoid the noise. Now, you just have people yakking everywhere. The rise of texting has helped a little, but it's still pretty awful.
    • Put 'em in airports, and people will figure out a way to have sex in 'em... or sleep in them.
      • Having sex in a glass-walled phone booth might appeal to some extreme exhibitionists, but the police will take a dim view of that. And you can already sleep in airports.
  • Japan has had booths to make phone calls in shared spaces for a long time, because in Japan it is impolite to speak audibly on your phone in such places as airline lounges, trains, etc. I only wish it was similarly socially unacceptable to speak loudly on your phone around other people in Europe or the USA.

    These used to be phone booths with payphones. Older structures still have them, newer structures are built with them and signs indicating 'phone zone' or similar.

    Meanwhile, how do you phone someone to tal

    • We have them at work. They are great, especially if you need to make a private call - the soundproofing is excellent. Bring your laptop in if you need to.
  • We have a bunch of these weird phone booths in our stupid open office. They're always occupied, even by people who aren't in phone calls, because they're the only place you can actually hear your own thoughts.
  • I can just get in one of those when muh feelings get hurt
  • A privacy booth accessible by everyone. Sounds like the first place I'd plant bugs to try to get blackmail info on people!

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