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A second free payphone is coming to Detroit


  • Courtesy of Futel

Ah payphones, technological relics of times gone by. Or are they?

Portland, Oregon-based Futel has installed 10-plus free-to-use payphones in urban centers across the country. And now it is bringing a second one to Detroit.

To be located outside of the Detroit Bus Company in Corktown, the second Futel phone follows a payphone installed in Woodbridge last year.
Part art-installation, part telephone service, Futel’s payphones provide free telephone calls and even voicemail. But, unlike their predecessor, the phones also have unique features like the option to speak to a live volunteer operator, as well as access to a social services directory.

Other features of the phone are meant to be fun or thought-provoking — like the "wildcard line," which is a feature where users can listen to stories told by other users, as well as contribute their own. Previous iterations of the phones had an option where a user could dial up a random ICE detention facility.

"The payphone is such an interesting and important part of urban history, and hacker history," Futel’s founder, Karl Anderson, previously told Metro Times. So I just wanted to kind of play around with that 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."

Futel payphones operate using free public internet connections, and the nonprofit runs largely on grants and volunteers. Its website even features a wish list of tech items that supporters can donate.

On its blog, the company states that the installations are meant to be used by any and everyone — but especially those in the community where they're placed. "I like to get local neighborhood-strengthening stuff — you know, people talking about their neighborhoods," Anderson said. "People talking about the history or the future of their neighborhoods, and stuff like that."

While Futel phones won’t save the world, especially offering a service that almost everyone has in their pocket, the art and community aspect is intriguing. With a name that is a play on "futile," even they poke fun a little at themselves: "We don’t really know whether we’re doing the right thing by installing free payphones, maybe we should turn them into barricades or battering rams or something instead," Futel's website reads. "Until then, please enjoy and utilize our phones, and call your mom!"

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