"Payphone Funeral" Dials Up Nostalgia Before Hanging Up

Nick Smatt memorializes the pay phone.


If you’re a fan of thrillers of a certain era, you’re familiar with the plot device where the character being chased picks up a pay phone that randomly begins ringing and receives directions from an unidentified voice. But we may never see this cliché scene again.

It doesn’t take a genius to notice that pay phone use in New York has become nearly obsolete with the popularization of cell phones, but filmmaker Nicholas Smatt decided to pay tribute to the pay phone with his new video “Payphone Funeral,” in which Smatt eulogizes the pay phone to a group of mourners. “There was no better way to celebrate all the pay phone has done for us and to see it off for a final time than to have a funeral for it,” Smatt tells Inverse.

In “Payphone Funeral,” Smatt applauds the pay phone for being a “a physical and emotional reminder of the power of human connection.” Pay phones were reliable and convenient for New Yorkers on the go, yet reminded people to slow down and take a moment to call a loved one. They kept communication purposeful and concise, and even provided shelter from rain during unannounced summer downpours. “What inspired me was how important this piece of technology was for our world, and how special it is to remember something that served us so well,” Smatt wrote.

While “Payphone Funeral” waves goodbye to the pay phone in a comically sorrowful way, it also marks the digital progression of our society and suggests that a shift in communication isn’t necessarily a bad thing. “A shift is commonly a synonym for betterment,” Smatt wrote. “So while it’s sad to say goodbye today, we’re thankful for what it did for us yesterday, and what it paved the way for tomorrow.”

New York’s pay phones have been relatively obsolete for a while now, but they will start physically disappearing at a more rapid rate in the near future. LinkNYC is a communications network that will replace over 7,500 pay phones with structures called Links that will offer free public WiFi, device charging, and a tablet for internet browsing among other things. Compared to pay phones, which only perform one function and for a price, LinkNYC sounds like the technological upgrade New York needs. Still, “Payphone Funeral” shows that the pay phone won’t be forgotten. “It’s more than a pole with wires,” Smatt wrote. “It’s the enabler of human connection and simplicity.”