Can Superman Even Find a Phone Booth?

by Eric Cohen

Just last month, the last public pay phone was removed from the streets of midtown Manhattan. It’s the final chapter in a saga that’s been unfolding since 2015 as New York City, and other cities around the world, began to get rid of the last vestige of a bygone era. (In 2018, the Federal Communications Commission said there were still 100,000 pay phones left in the U.S. – about one-fifth of them located in New York.) Long before payphones became a remnant of our recent past, landlines started disappearing from homes across the country. How many people remember rotary phones and then the exciting transition to push-button phones? In 2004, more than 90% of U.S. adults lived in households that had a landline phone. Now it’s less than 40%. It was only a matter of time before phones went wireless (as did the ability for others to listen in on your conversations). Then came cell phones.

How hard was it, really, to go to where the phone was to make a call? Not hard, but not convenient. Although phones were one of the first consumer items to go wireless, they’re certainly not the last. I remember growing up and taking turns with my brothers crossing the room to change the channels on our living room TV. (With the number of times we got up and changed channels each night, who needed a Peloton?) We were thrilled when our parents purchased a TV with a remote. Died and gone to heaven!

After I finished mowing the lawn each week, I’d sit on the porch and watch our neighbor mow his lawn with an electric lawn mower thinking, “Wow, that’s cool.” (And also thinking … don’t run over the cord!) Lawn mowers today are both battery-powered and autonomous. Now, rather than pushing the mower in the hot humid heat of summer, you can simply set the course, sit back with a lemonade or beer, and watch your lawn turn from a patch of overgrown grass to a manicured work of art. Best of all, with an autonomous mower, you don’t even have to plug it in. Now if they can just figure out a way to make wireless leaf blowers quieter!

Moving back inside, I was “thrilled” when I had to buy a new vacuum cleaner and discovered a wireless Dyson. No more cords to drag around the house, no more plugging/unplugging … hmm … sounds a lot like plugging/unplugging an EV. Yes, you do it because you have to, but what if there was an easier way? Dyson figured it out for vacuums and fans. WiTricity has figured it out for EVs. And consumers want it. In fact, in a recent research study, 96% of EV buyers want wireless charging. Now it’s up to the car makers to listen to their customers who want wireless charging more than popular upgrades such as premium audio systems, park assist, and acceleration performance. I just hope we don’t have to wait too long.