When Doors are Removed for Our Own Safety: A Historical Case Study of the ‘Failed’ "Question Mark" Telephone Booth

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Abstract

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are often understood as increasingly private and personalized. From reading the national newspaper to the individualized Facebook timeline; from talking on the shared household landline telephone to the personal smartphone. However, a historical case of the ‘failed’ telephone booth The Question Mark complicates this narrative of increased access to private ICTs.
The telephone booth held an important position in 20th century public infrastructure as part of everyday life communication routines as well as situations of emergency. Sparked by a 1980 design competition for a new telephone booth for Copenhagen, however, a new communication space emerged through a controversy that mobilized new publics and issues. These publics and issues related to terrorism, disability and design, but excluded other users and concerns. Through the case, we see the making of a new public communicative sociability, as devices were designed for safety and accessibility rather than comfort and privacy.
The case study is based on archival material and interviews with involved actors, and contributes to architectural theory’s recent involvement with ANT and controversy mapping (Yaneva, 2012). By suggesting we open the ‘black box’ of a failed design, this presentation also draws on a familiar schema in STS. I argue that such continued engagement with matters of the past is a cornerstone of STS’ efforts to ‘expose sources of uncertainty and contingency that are hidden by the successful genesis, stabilization and dissemination of facts and artefacts’ (Lynch, 1998).
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Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are often understood as increasingly private and personalized. From reading the national newspaper to the individualized Facebook timeline; from talking on the shared household landline telephone to the personal smartphone. However, a historical case of the ‘failed’ telephone booth The Question Mark complicates this narrative of increased access to private ICTs.
The telephone booth held an important position in 20th century public infrastructure as part of everyday life communication routines as well as situations of emergency. Sparked by a 1980 design competition for a new telephone booth for Copenhagen, however, a new communication space emerged through a controversy that mobilized new publics and issues. These publics and issues related to terrorism, disability and design, but excluded other users and concerns. Through the case, we see the making of a new public communicative sociability, as devices were designed for safety and accessibility rather than comfort and privacy.
The case study is based on archival material and interviews with involved actors, and contributes to architectural theory’s recent involvement with ANT and controversy mapping (Yaneva, 2012). By suggesting we open the ‘black box’ of a failed design, this presentation also draws on a familiar schema in STS. I argue that such continued engagement with matters of the past is a cornerstone of STS’ efforts to ‘expose sources of uncertainty and contingency that are hidden by the successful genesis, stabilization and dissemination of facts and artefacts’ (Lynch, 1998).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date30 Aug 2017
Publication statusPublished - 30 Aug 2017
Publication categoryResearch
Peer-reviewedYes
Event4S: STS (In)Sensibilities - Sheraton Boston, Boston, United States
Duration: 28 Aug 20172 Sep 2017

Conference

Conference4S: STS (In)Sensibilities
LocationSheraton Boston
CountryUnited States
CityBoston
Period28/08/201702/09/2017

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