Monday, December 13, 2010

Phone Books—Joining the Dinosaurs?

Remember the old black telephones with the operator at the end of the line: “Num-ber, pah-leez”?


See, I remember our family’s 1940s telephone number. Mother and Dad had me memorize it just in case I got lost or kidnapped, though that was pretty much impossible in Alloway, the small New Jersey town where he grew up. Alloway had one blinking traffic signal at the center of town (red for vehicles on Greenwich and yellow for those on Main) and a host of moms and dads who “kept an eye out” for everyone’s kids, not just their own.

When the phone rang three times, I sometimes was asked to answer—in the proper way of course: “Nixon residence.”

Most operators were fired a couple of generations ago—replaced by rotary and then push-button phones. And now another part of telephone history since 1878 is about to disappear—the telephone directory—the white pages with residential telephone numbers.

Our current phone company, Verizon, has asked state authorities permission to stop delivering the white pages.


Most people now look up numbers online—or have them stored already on their home phones or cellphones. A survey showed that only 11% of households in 2008 used the white pages to find telephone numbers.

What then are all those thick directories used for?

Kindling wood—booster seats—pressing four-leaf clovers—but mostly for filling recycling bins.

Will I miss the local phone book?

One of the 7 a.m. exercise group at our community center recently was hospitalized. I wanted to call his wife and inquire about his recovery and to send a get-well card. I went to a cupboard in the garage, found the local phone directory, but found no entry for our friend. Then I went online and within a few seconds found his phone number and home address including zip code.

I probably won’t miss receiving the local directory. And the blue recycling bin at Meadow Glenn will be full at times—with the annual two-volume edition of the to-be-continued Yellow Pages.

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