The majority of payphones are now sad, empty boxes. Finding one that actually works is unlikely in most places. However, Karl Anderson, founder of the Portland-based company Futel, is on a mission to change that.

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Futel is a nonprofit dedicated to keeping the magic of the payphone alive, and they’ve already installed 10 working payphones across the country.

The resurrection of the payphone

Anderson’s passion project started with installations mainly in Portland. Recently, though, Detroit got its first working payphone (see photo above).

For Anderson, the motivation to bring back the payphone started with a mere desire to reverse their disappearance. “I just wanted to kind of play around with [its historical relevance] and make an art project around it — to see who would use it just for the phone itself. And I found that a lot of people were using it, much more than I expected,” Anderson told the Metro Times.  

Futel’s phone booths, which are “part-political statement, part-art project,” are getting a lot of use.

Politically? There’s a function on the phones that dials up a random ICE detention facility. Artistically? The payphone’s “wildcard line” allows users to both contribute and listen to creative stories that are eventually compiled into an “audio zine.”

Phone a friend — or not

Anderson’s payphone project isn’t about dialing back time and discounting the convenience of cellphones — it’s about community and inclusivity.

“We do not judge the motivations of our users, or who they choose to call; if they don’t have someone to call, we can provide a presence on the other end,” Futel’s site reads. The company seeks to “establish a new era of communication, one in which reaching out is not only desirable, but mandatory.”

Oh, and the booths are free to use.

For now, your payphone nostalgia can be quenched in Portland or Detroit. But who knows where Futel will expand to in the coming years. After all, part of Anderson’s mission is restoring the phone booth as an accessible agora for everybody. And that’s as good a motivation to kick it old school as any.

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