By Cathy Johnson
For a certain segment of the population (the Boomers, to be specific), the phone book was a treasure trove of information. Published yearly, it arrived on one’s porch or in the mailbox with predictable regularity. And it was always kind of fun to see where on the page your name and number were printed that year. Top of the left-hand side of the page and bottom of the right-hand side got your name on the very top line of the page, coveted spots, to be sure.
But what was equally as important as the phone numbers in the book were the addresses. “Where do the So-and-Sos live?” Reach for the phone book. “Is that the Green family on Locust or on Division?” Reach for the phone book. “What’s the street number for Dr. Brown’s office?” Look it up in the phone book.
It also answered questions about businesses in the Yellow Pages, as long as you used the correct heading to look up the business or service. Otherwise you were politely redirected. If you looked up “Inns,” the entry would say, “See Bed and Breakfasts, Hotels, Motels.”
In really large urban areas, the phone book had another function: booster seat, just like the Sears & Roebuck catalog. A volume of the encyclopedia would do in a pinch, but the soft-covered catalog or phone book was much more comfortable for a little one to sit on.
Of course you couldn’t find everything or everyone in the phone book. Some people had unlisted numbers, some listed only their surname and a first initial, and some just a surname. But the phone book didn’t usually disappoint a determined searcher.
Fast forward to 2017 and the phone book is much slimmer. More people are dropping their landline number and just keeping the cell number. And while they are usually findable on the internet, it takes a bit more dogged searching to find information like an address.
There are competing directory services as well. Where there used to be just the one “Ma Bell” phone book, with its white pages of names, addresses and phone numbers and its yellow pages of products and services, now there are exclusively yellow page directories as well as those with just the white pages.
The question is, will there come a day when the phone book will simply be an antique reference item, shelved only in museums and libraries? How many more generations will landlines exist? It’s an interesting question to ponder, and even Siri, Cortana and Google probably can’t answer it….yet.
The age of the smartphone is coexisting with the age of the phone book. And while the delivery of the next edition will probably not elicit the same response as the one from the Steve Martin character in the movie “The Jerk” – “The new phone book is here! The new phone book is here!” – consider the important community information which it does contain and the service that it provides.