Human Telephone Boxes, Bogota

Strategic Planners- or whatever new term your agency has coined to label them- undoubtedly come in many different packages and flavors. Despite our many idiosyncrasies, one thing we all do seem to have in common, however, is an insatiable curiosity and ability to treat nearly any subject matter we were previously ignorant of, with utter fascination.

Having only just recovered from the shock- 18months later I might add- of discovering that moving from London to New York not only cuts my annual leave from 20 days to 10, but also requires me to refer to the days as vacation and not holiday, it was great to finally get an opportunity to do some travelling and see a new part of the world. The destination was Colombia. An exciting new culture to discover and explore. A world of curious behavioral traits and new products to get over-excited by.

A few months ago I saw the always inspirational Jan Chipchase, the former strategist at Nokia’s Los Angeles design studio who recently moved to Frog Design in Shanghai, talking about some of the interesting and quirky cultural norms he has seen on his expeditions around the world. His blog is littered with countless examples. The images at the bottom of the page are two of my recent favorites. The first is a shrine symbol which serves as a moral authority to deter drunks from peeing on the wall in Tokyo, Japan, while the second depicts seat annotations made my parking attendants in Chengdu, China.

Back to my own cultural expedition: In Bogota, I found myself captivated and completely intrigued by what I started calling Human Phone Boxes. What are they? Men or women with multiple mobile phones all connected to their body by a length of wire or string, walking around Bogota proudly espousing the rate at which you can make a call using their services (different neighborhoods and sellers seemed to offer differing prices).

As someone who can’t really sit still when on the phone, I loved the idea that these phone boxes afforded you the opportunity to walk and talk, either using the length of wire to do so, or by encouraging the movable human phone box to walk with you. When several people were all using the services of one Human Phone Box, they started to resemble a telecom Octopus of sorts. With the prevalence of mobile devices in North America, I’m not too sure there is a need for too many phone boxes, let alone human ones. If they ever do need them, however, I will be sure to throw my weight behind these curious private enterprises.

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