Friday, May 30, 2008

Telephone Books

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.



The Mistress of the Dark said...

I don't think the internet will replace the phone book for a long while since the yellow pages online are really horrid. I've tried to use them a few times and I end up more frustrated than not.

Amanda said...

Surprisingly, when I'm in Brisbane, I always prefer using the Yellow Pages instead of looking things up online. Its just much quicker....

Now in Malaysia or Indonesia, its a different story. I haven't seen one in either of these countries all year. Its not that they are going online. In this part of the world, its just much faster to ask somebody if they know somebody else who could get the job done or sell something.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

Many a time we've wanted to tear a hard drive up in frustration!

Mike said...

At least the telephone book is still hanging in there. The telephone itself has turned into a piece of disposable junk.

lacochran said...

I think a lot of movie plots simply wouldn't work anymore as so many involve a telephone booth and they are quickly going the way of the dodo... even the phone cubby. I picture Superman trying to change clothes at a cubby and desperately trying to cover up. *shakes head*

Bilbo said...

lacochran: do you remember the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve? There was a scene in it just like you describe...Clark Kent races down the street looking for a phone booth...sees the sign...races for it...then stands dumbfounded in front of the little phone bubble hanging on the pole. The look on Reeve's face was worth the price of scene in the movie!