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The Phone Booth Is Back -- Minus the Phone

Cell phones may be ruling our lives, but at least they don't have to ruin our dinners and study breaks anymore.

With newer, fancier cell phones continually hitting the market and the FCC (search) considering allowing the use of mobiles on airplanes, there is once again an oasis of quiet to be found: restaurants and libraries across the country are installing cell-phone booths (search) to give Americans peace from annoying chatter — and the privacy to make a call.

"People think it is a good idea, because it gets people [on cell phones] out of the restaurant so they don't interfere with the dining experience of others," said Chad League, manager of Brooklyn Café in Sandy Springs, Ga., an Italian eatery that has installed an old-school English phone booth, minus the phone.

Brooklyn Café management figured that customers were as sick as they were of having to hear others yak away on their cell phones, and of not being able to find a better alternative than the sidewalk to make a call.

Hence, they decided the red, 1,700-pound cell phone booth would be the perfect addition to the restaurant.

"Cell phones are all over the place. Everyone always has someone to talk to, and having the option to use a cell-phone booth makes it easier for someone to be polite," said League. "Nobody wants to hear someone talking on a cell phone while they are dining."

Studies confirm that people are also sick of not being able to talk in private without being subjected to the elements, or having to hear toilets flush in the background.

A July 2004 survey conducted by leading cellular carrier Sprint Corp. (search) found that 98 percent of Americans were desperate for a private place to talk.

And some see cell-phone booths as the perfect solution.

"It's a cute idea," said 21-year-old Zahava Leibowitz, a teacher from New York City. "This is a much better option than having to stand outside in the cold or rain while making a call."

If privacy is what she craves, Leibowitz needn't venture outside her own backyard to find it. New York City's Biltmore Room (search) restaurant offers a soundproof cell-phone booth with leather walls and 9-foot ceilings, giving people the chance to talk freely and comfortably while also remaining stylish.

The booth, part of the Biltmore's latest décor update, has been a hit among patrons — and its success is no mystery.

According to the Zagat Survey, 28 percent of all New Yorkers find loud noise to be the biggest dining-out irritant, Zagat spokeswoman Alexa Rudin said.

"Certain cities are more of a problem. It's market-to-market," said Rudin, who feels that the cell-phone booth is a trend we will be seeing more of.

People are also desperate for quiet to return to the library — and their complaints are being heard.

"We don't want people talking in the library, which includes cell phones. So we have, on each floor, one phone booth with no pay phone in it," said Jose Bahamonbe-Gonzalez, a dean at the University of Maryland School of Law.

Other establishments are also seeking cellular sanctuary. The Boston Public Library (search) has plans to install booths, and restaurants around the country have taken note of the publicity that Chicago's BOKA restaurant (search) has received for its velvet-clad talk area.

But don't celebrate the silence just yet. To the dismay of many travelers, the FCC is considering doing away with the in-flight cell-phone ban on U.S. commercial aircraft.

"I don't want to hear anyone else's business, especially if I am on a five- or six-hour flight to California. All I want to do is relax," said Jonathon Louise, a 32-year-old lawyer from Boca Raton, Fla.

Louise feels that if the FCC were to lift the ban, airlines should consider installing some kind of cell-phone booth as a courtesy to passengers who don't want to hear one-sided conversations.

He also thinks cell-phones booths are necessary to rein in people who don't censor themselves.

"People talk on their cell phones as if they were behind closed doors, using the same type of language and raising their voices. They just don't know how to govern themselves."