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New York's Gift to Broadway: Phone Booths From The Future

In News That Would Confuse Bill & Ted: Phone booths meet iPads. logo

TheaterMania’s Broadway guide on a new SmartScreen – inside a phone booth
© Darren Sussman
New York is bringing sexy back to those lonely, defunct phone booths you see along Broadway.

Phone booths have fallen from grace in recent years, with the rise of the iRobots That Control Our Souls, but they still hold a special place in our cultural consciousness. Phone booths are portals to exit The Matrix, stoner time machines, and dressing rooms for superheroes. And as much as we'd like to erase it from our consciousness, a phone booth also served as the setting for an excruciating 81-minute movie about a sniper holding Colin Farrell hostage in a phone booth.

But in real life, some New York City phone booths are upgrading their capabilities -- to better resemble those iRobots.

A plan to remove 250 phones from their booths and transform them into iPad-esque touch-screens began on November 20. These 32-inch "information hubs" can warn you of impending natural disasters, and show you how you can volunteer when a disaster (including Hurricane Sandy) occurs. They can direct tourists to the nearest Applebee's – and also to reviews of the nearest Applebee's. And they can tell you where and how to see discounted Broadway shows. [That last part is a service provided by us here at TheaterMania. You're welcome.]

Let's face it: For the past five years, phone booths in the Theater District have been used primarily for discreet lipstick and/or cocaine application, phoning a friend to ask to borrow an iPhone charger, and half-public displays of "affection" following too many post-show drinks at Chez Josephine.

The information-hub-initiative is collaboration between the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the company City24/7, which created the devices, and Cisco. The "SmartScreens", as City24/7 has dubbed them, will eventually reach all five boroughs.

The plan will not impede New Yorker's ability to make phone calls. Nor will it stop your local superhero/drunkard from finding a place to change into his or her skivvies. The city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications plans to "find booths with at least two phones and replace one of them with a screen, ensuring that telephones would still be available," according to The New York Times.

Plus, these new booths will double as free Wi-Fi hotspots, and you can use them to charge your iRobots. Win-Win.

Best of all, Broadway fans will be able to see Ricky Martin's bon-bon on an Evita billboard, then hop into the nearest hub to purchase tickets for that evening's performance.

Long live kinda-sorta-still phone booths.