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Goodbye, White Pages…

By Brian | November 12, 2010 | Share on Facebook

The 133-year tradition that is the phone book (a.k.a., the White Pages) is quietly coming to an end. According to the Associated Press, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania have all obtained approval this month to stop printing the paper-based phone book. Virginia residents have until November 19th to provide comments on a similar request.

The statistics are rather stark: only 11% of of households relied on the white pages in 2008 (down from 25% in 2005). Land line phones are being disconnected at a rate of 10% per year, as people make their cellphone, which is not listed in the white pages, their only phone. And in places where the phone companies have been allowed to offer a choice, only 2% of customers have asked for a phone book.

Technology is obviously the “killer app” here. Phone numbers are much more easily obtained via search engines, which are often available on the smart phones themselves. The smart phones also have Caller ID and electronic address books, so frequently (or even infrequently) called numbers are recorded and stored for later use, gradually creating a personalized phone book for each person. And for those Neanderthals who don’t have smart phones, the phone company can print a single, on-demand phone book just for that person, or even send them a CD-ROM. All of this, of course, leads to big cost savings for the phone company, who doesn’t have to print the (largely advertising-free) book. And, of course, there are environmental benefits as well – each book represents just over 3.5 pounds of paper.

So it seems like a win-win situation all around. The only thing left, as far as I can tell, is for Google to invent a way to prop up the leg of a wobbly table.

Topics: The Future is Now | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to “Goodbye, White Pages…”

  1. jason says at November 13th, 2010 at 3:13 pm :
    Ahem. Don’t you think it’s a bit unfair to call those of us who aren’t on the bleeding edge of technology (and, frankly, consumerist trends) “Neanderthals?” Believe it or not, there are people out there who don’t upgrade their phones every six months, for a huge variety of reasons. In my case, it’s a conscious choice. A smartphone strikes me as one more electronic distraction in an already overly shiny world — basically, I don’t feel like I need to have the Internet and video on demand on my person wherever I go. (Honestly, I prefer not to have even a telephone with me all the time, but people get antsy if they think they can’t reach me.) I also, personally, don’t want the added expense of a data plan to feed the thing. And I’m a person who has a choice in the matter. There are many people who simply can’t afford these toys and/or the services that are necessary to make them work.

    I know I come across as your friendly neighborhood Luddite whenever you put up a post along these lines, but I tend to be sensitive to the very real digital divide I see developing in our society , because I watch my parents struggle daily with this brave new world that their children have invented for them. They are not unintelligent people, nor are they doddering old farts who don’t understand why they’re not building Model Ts anymore. And yet they are lost in so many ways. I am saddened — and also often frustrated, to be honest — by their failure to adapt even to such frivolous things as Facebook. (My mother is terrified of the thing, certain that the identity thieves will strike within seconds of her opening an account, and yet most of her friends are on FB and have moved their chitchat there, so Mom feels like she’s been cut off . It’s a no-win situation for her.)

    I don’t have any sentimental attachment to phone books — I can’t recall the last time I used one, to be honest — and I agree that getting rid of them will be a huge environmental benefit. But I question whether the phone companies will, in fact, offer a POD service for those who still need one (CD-ROMs aren’t a good substitute for my folks), or if some pencil pusher somewhere will decide that the “Neanderthals” just need to get with the program and move up to a smartphone like all the cool kids, just as you’ve callously suggested here. It’s simply not an option for people like my parents, who still haven’t figured out how to use their old-skool feature phones. And it’s insulting to those who choose not to own a smartphone, whatever their reasons.

    Do you see what I’m saying? I’m not trying to pick a fight, and I accept that progress is inevitable — things go away, and there’s nothing we can do about that — but it’s an elitist assumption that everyone has a smartphone, or should get one. And I do feel for the people who are getting left behind by our apparently unstoppable drive toward a virtual existence.

    Oh, and one more thing: I haven’t owned a cellphone yet that I can use in my house to my satisfaction… there are too many dead spots where I end up getting disconnected. I don’t know if it’s something about the construction of my home, or the quality of cell service in this area (I know 4G is supposed to improve on this sort of thing, when it finally arrives here), but when I’m at home, a land line is still my best option…

  2. Brian says at November 13th, 2010 at 6:11 pm :
    Sorry, Jason – I really did mean the word “Neanderthal” sarcastically, but my intent was obviously nowhere near clear enough. I don’t have a lesser opinion of those who don’t use the modern technology – I, myself, in fact, have a land-line phone for exactly the reasons you mention. So again, my apologies for what came across as an insult – I truly didn’t mean to offend.

    Now, all of that said, I think there are certain realities in the world that aren’t going to cater to the lowest common technology denominator. You may not have a smartphone, but I know by your blogging habits that you have a fairly consistent internet connection, which means you have plenty of access to Google and the various other ways of finding people’s phone numbers. And those who don’t have personal access, such as those with financial constraints, can often find public access kiosks at places like a library or a post office.

    My parents, like yours, are somewhat technophobic, but they’ve adopted the computer into their lives for certain functions, including phone number lookups. They’re not Facebook users (yet), but their adoption of other online functions (e-mail, online shopping, online photographs of the grandkids, etc.) all came with some degree of trepidation. Will someone steal my credit card? Will the pedophiles come after the kids if their pictures are online? Familiarity has quelled these fears over time and, while I have no right to butt in on your relationship with your mom, I’d strongly encourage you to set her up with just a few friends (maybe just you?) so she can see that it’s not so bad.

    I’m reminded of a story about Benjamin Franklin: it is said that one of the reasons he was such a scholar of his generation was that his father owned the local candle factory, and plentiful light meant that he could read well into the night, while others had to conserve their candles due to financial constraints. Access to the latest tools and technologies will always put some at an advantage and others at a disadvantage. The fact that progress doesn’t include 100% of the population is not an argument against progress.

    I’ve always found the term “digital divide” to be needlessly divisive for this reason. As long as entire groups of people aren’t being maliciously kept away, I don’t mind a gap between the “knows” and the “know-nots.” There’s a wonderful feeling of accomplishment awaiting those who are not yet enabled, and some truly amazing lifestyle benefits to those who are.

  3. Suzanne says at November 15th, 2010 at 12:31 am :
    Interesting article, but I’m perplexed by a couple things. First, why does a private company like Verizon need permission from a state to stop printing these door stops? Second, how does the company know if the printed directories get used or not? The claim that people regularly use the Yellow pages sounds odd to me. Personally, I cringe when I find one deposited on my driveway and it goes straight into the recycling bin.

  4. Brian says at November 15th, 2010 at 10:34 am :
    @Suzanne #3:
    I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing the local phone companies commited to certain (unprofitable) services as a condition of their forced monopoly. If some government entity didn’t step in, I’d imagine we’d never have had phonebooks – who would spend the money to print them (especially without advertising)?

    As for the yellow pages, that’s likely a survey result. I’m not sure who the Yellow Pages Association is, but I’m guessing it is to their advantage to convince folks that a high percentage of people still use the yellow pages. Like you, I’m very skeptical of their result…


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