Archive for Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bulky in, techy out

August 20, 2009

Recently, I came across another sign of just how much times are changing. It seems that in the future, the big metro telephone directory won’t be delivered to residences. The “big book” will be available but phone customers have to make a personal request.

I was lamenting the change when it was pointed out that almost no one uses a phone book now. If you need a number, you go to the computer or check your blueberry, blackberry, strawberry or whatever you own. I saw this in action recently when we were looking for the phone number of a store that had moved. We asked the person at the service desk of a neighboring business, and instead of handing us the bulky white pages, she went to the computer and in a few seconds had the number. Yes, the world is changing, and what was once common is drifting into the dark pages of history.

Don’t worry, there will still be area phone books around. In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the phone company did not have an exclusive copyright over telephone numbers. This decision has led to a number of companies selling yellow page advertising and publishing phone books. And this will continue as long as businesses are willing to buy ads in the yellow pages.

It may be silly, but I felt that I was really grown up, independent and adult when Jean and I got our first listing in a phone book. I doubt that young people feel like that today. In the old days, everyone had his or her name, address and number listed in the directory. Now, many choose to be anonymous and have unlisted numbers. Some probably thought that an unlisted number would prevent those annoying and unwanted sales calls. Of course, that isn’t the case since automatic dialing equipment took care of that issue.

If there is an error in your listing, it can last forever. In 1991, we sold our house and were building a new home. In the interim period, we established an apartment above the Chieftain building. The first problem we ran into was trying to switch our phone number.

The person we talked to said that we couldn’t have a private phone at a business address. After lengthy discussions, we got our number changed, but for whatever reason, it was listed as a “manufacturer’s representative.” While the company acknowledged the error, some 18 years later we still receive calls about our “business.” It appears that old listings of phone numbers never die nor do they fade away.

It is also interesting to note that the first phone book was established just shortly after the invention of the telephone. The date listed for the invention of the telephone was March 10, 1876. Less than two years later, Feb. 21, 1878, the first phone directory was printed in New Haven, Conn. The directory had 50 listings — 11 residences and 39 businesses.

The telephone quickly spread around the world and by 1880, there were 130 exchanges. It wasn’t long before folks saw a way to make a buck and sold yellow pages advertising. The first yellow pages were printed in Chicago in 1886.

One of the biggest prizes for weekly newspapers was that of getting the contract for the local telephone directory. At that time, almost all weekly newspapers were in the printing business and the phone book was very important. I remember having the opportunity to help with such a project by doing some of the typesetting. In those “old days,” typesetting was done on a linotype and it was a very tedious job that required tremendous care. By the 1960s, there were companies that specialized in printing phone books and local printers were soon eliminated by low bids.

Will the phone book go the way of the buggy whip? Probably it will, yet for years to come, some of us will still look to the book for information and numbers.


Jason Bailey 8 years, 9 months ago

To each, their own. I use my iPhone, and an app on it, for searching yellow/white page listings. This way the entire book follows me wherever I am instead of having to be at home to go find it.

Increasingly, we're a mobile society and if we can utilize electronic databases to get information, why wouldn't you embrace that? It also cuts down on the number of trees that need to be axed for said book -- year after year.


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