The oldest thing there is in my village is a phone box," a woman from an unnamed village in Malaga province once proudly told me. When I think about the removal of public phone booths from towns and cities I think specifically about this one and about the woman's belief in it being the place's main relic.
This year sees the end of the obligation for all municipalities with more than 1,000 inhabitants to have one. Until now they were considered an essential public service.
Public phone boxes were used to give important information or quick messages, or to file news reports. The longest conversations thrived on the anxiety of the countdown when there were no more coins. People learned, more than anywhere else, the value of words, and that time is one of man's worst enemies. Now almost everyone who uses a phone box does so because they have something to hide or because they have run out of battery. Or because they are resisting owning a mobile telephone. I know two people who don't have a mobile.
In 2020 there were just 500 survivors in the province of Malaga, of which 179 were in the city. I put 'cabinas en Málaga' in Google Maps and photographs of several dozen and their exact locations come up, as well as a sex shop, which has its 'cabins', but of a different kind.
The idea of giving a new use to these urban elements has generated much imagination among local councils. In some in Malaga, with patience, you can charge your mobile, or they are an intelligent information point for tourists.
In other cities they have become places to exchange books, or even seeds. Some sell coffee, some have defibrillators and there are a lot of creative people in this world.
The remaining phone booths barely register one call a week, but in Spain people send some 125 million WhatsApps a day and more than 100 million mobile phone calls are made.
We are communicating more than ever, multiplying the possibilities of broadcasting regrettable opinions.
With the phone booths we are also losing the tricks we had to make a free call and the luck of finding forgotten coins.
In phone boxes people have had sex and have died; a worrying number of people have committed suicide.
Bomb warnings have been given, some falsely directed at schools, threats have been made and thousands have declared their love.
I don't remember my last call from a public phone box.