The Newest NYC Tourist Attraction – The Pay Phone Time Machine

Yes, we still have pay phones here in NYC, though these days they are more so used as wifi hotspots than for actually placing calls. Bill Weir, Andrew Lampard, David H. Miller and Brad Marxer over on Yahoo write about the newest use for these phones…just remember to bring your anti-bacterial gel along…

It’s hard enough to admit to yourself that 1993 was 20 years ago, but it’s even harder to imagine New York City circa 1993. Times Square was an unsavory place, subways were plastered with graffiti and the city had a crime problem. All that has changed now, but what if you could travel back in time and experience the city as it once was? Now you can – just pick up a New York City pay phone. No, it doesn’t transport you in a literal sense, but if you dial “1-855-FOR-1993” from any of the city’s 5,000 pay phones, you will hear what was happening on that phone’s block in 1993 from someone who was there. The exhibit includes audio stories from artists, activists, “celebutantes” and “club kids” — even the metropolis’ only homegrown New York City Marathon winner. This cool interactive campaign is called “Recalling 1993,” and it was organized by the New Museum as a promotion for its current exhibit, “NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star.” Named after a Sonic Youth album, the exhibit includes art that was shown or created in New York City in 1993.“We’re finding a purpose to bring those pay phones back,” said Ray Del Savio, an associate creative director at Droga5, the advertising company that implemented “Recalling 1993” for the New Museum. “There are so many New Yorkers who weren’t here in ‘93. Now you can experience what it was like.” How did Droga5 manage the seemingly gargantuan task of assigning an authentic story to every city pay phone? After locating all the city’s pay phones in working order, Droga5’s team made a database of all the working payphones. When “1-855-FOR-1993” is dialed, the database locates the pay phone that made the phone call and then feeds back a story specific to the pay phone’s location. So next time you’re in the city, pick up any pay phone and revisit 1993. Both “Recalling 1993” and the New Museum’s “NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star” run until May 26.

Comments

  1. I’ll have to try it from one of my favorite pay-phone banks in NYC: the old-school, accordian-doored beauties in the basement of the Main Branch of the NYPL (the Schwarzman Building for you nouveau purists). Also, if you have a kid, [almost] every public school has a bizarre little public phone booth/room. Can’t wait to try it out

  2. During the post Sandy blackout, payphones were a lifesaver as they were among the few things actually working in my nabe.

    Aside from a much needed lifeline to those without cell or landline service, pay phones provided much amusement as those of us old enough to have used them way back when, watched those who weren’t & had no clue how to use them! 😛

  3. Would’ve been really interesting if they stated how much real estate was back then in that neighborhood too! I recall 1-bedroom apts in downtown nyc were being sold less than $100,000 at that time. To remind me of the gritty days of NYC back in the late 80s or early 90s, I just watch movies like Ghost, Scent of a Woman, It Could Happen to You, etc.

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