Yesterday one of my coworkers sent me a link to an interesting article from Discovery News: "World's First Telephone Book Surfaces." The article reports that the oldest known telephone directory - all 20 pages of it - was issued for New Haven, Connecticut, in November of 1878, just two years after Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. The book provided valuable information for New Haven's 391 telephone subscribers, including such gems as: "Should you wish to speak to another subscriber you should commence the conversation by saying, 'Hulloa!'"; "Never take the telephone off the hook unless you wish to use it;" and, "When you are done talking say, 'That is all,' and the person spoken to should say, 'O.K.'"
In contrast, the current (July, 2007) issue of our Northern Virginia White Pages is 1724 pages long and contains two full, three-column pages of "Emergency Preparedness" instructions and 15 pages of "General Information." The accompanying Yellow Pages volume is 1886 pages in length.
On a related topic, I recently read another article about how advertisers are trying to figure how to divide their budgets between the trusty old Yellow Pages and the newer online search capabilities. The bottom line is that the Yellow Pages are holding their own, but more and more people who own computers do their number lookups online.
This is a major cultural shift.
For years, a staple of the circus strongman's act was ripping a telephone book in half. Somehow, I don't think breaking a hard drive will have quite the same impact. And if online searches for phone numbers eventually replace the Yellow Pages, what will become of the famous "Yellow Pages game," in which you look for silly combinations of the guide words at the top of the pages; for instance, "Yoga-Zoos" (which apparently offer exercise programs for animals), "Plumbing-Pollution" (what happens when your toilet backs up), "Grocers-Guns (obviously necessary for the effective defense of the produce department), and "Metal-Ministers" (who must play some really loud and discordant music at their services).
And how effective is your online search as compared to the trusty Yellow Pages when you need something to bring that small child up to the level of the dinner table? One or two Yellow Pages volumes stacked on the chair will do the job, but I doubt that the computer will serve.
And what about the suspense movies in which the hero, desperate to find a phone number or address, rushes into a telephone booth and pages through the battered phone book chained to the little corner desk within...only to find that the page he needs has already been torn out by the scheming villain who's a step ahead of him?
Ah, the good old days...
By the way, if you'd like to own the world's oldest known telephone directory, it will be auctioned off by Christie's on June 17th. Good luck.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.