I USED to hate mobile phones and always swore I’d never get one. Then I came to Finland.

Finland is mobile phone crazy, not to put too fine a point on it, and this is why there are practically no phone boxes/booths left in the capital region. In the 1990s there were 900 phone boxes in fully working order, but now the only ones left on the streets of Helsinki are antique pieces on Sofiankatu and the island of Seurasaari, according to Jukka Laine from Telephone Museum Elisa. In the rest of Finland, phone boxes have fared no better. “There may be a phone box or two bought from us still in use but we don’t have any ourselves,” states Carita Autio of telecommunications company Elisa’s Public Relations department.

The demise of the phone box makes me a little sad, yet it’s difficult to come up with any real justification for why their passing should be mourned. Maybe, for those of us who grew up with them, it’s because we’ll have a tough time trying to explain to incredulous future generations what the world was like before mobile phones became so ubiquitous.

In more practical terms, the loss of phone boxes will mean less secluded spots for revellers with weak bladders and/or moral fibre, an end to impromptu “How many people can you fit in a phone box” competitions, and the devastation of the phone box repair profession – at least where I’m from, it sometimes seemed as if the main purpose of phone boxes (and glazed bus shelters) was to get teenagers to vandalise something other than shops, people’s houses and cars.

On the plus side, those phone boxes fortunate enough to be saved from the hands of scrap metal recyclers can look forward to a new lease of life as, among other things, novelty bars, saunas or rain shelters at shooting ranges. In the UK, some have even been converted into libraries, (official) public toilets, showers and art installations.

Telephone Museum Elisa
Runeberginkatu 23

If a wave of nostalgia grips you one day, though, rest assured that you’ll be able to visit Elisa’s museum in Helsinki, where a working phone box with its own phone book occupies a place of pride.

Allan Bain