Article first published as Bad News on My Doorstep: Mourning the Loss of the Phonebook on Blogcritics.
I came home today to find my new phonebooks waiting for me on my step. The disappointing part of the whole thing is that they are like a quarter of the size of the old ones. There is no heft to them, no pull on the arms as I brought them indoors. They look like ordinary books masquerading as phonebooks; alas, this is a sad excuse for something that used to be so grand.
Now, I'll admit, there is really not much use for a traditional phonebook anymore, just as its cousin the phone booth is now sadly antiquated. People are no longer interested in paging through a monstrosity of pages and pages of advertisements when they can accomplish the search in seconds online. While I used to like to look through the ads, cut out coupons for special deals, and search for something new, it is all for naught now. I too have succumbed to using the Internet because of the time factor.
There were other very good uses for the old big fat phonebooks that had nothing to do with making phone calls. Over the years I used them to balance furniture, prop up TV sets, act as bases for flower pots, to even out my stereo speakers, to hold down glued items, and (as a teenager) to fill in rusted out side panels in my car trunk. I also liked to stand on one to change light bulbs, placed paint cans on them to keep rings off the floor, and even put the baby seat on one in the dining room chair to get the right height.
These new ones that came today are basically good for none of those things, and they aren't much good for their allotted purpose either. I imagine that less and less people are advertising in them for one thing, making them thinner out of practicality. I suppose it is just a matter of time before the phonebook goes the way of the eight-track tape and the rotary dial phone. As it stands now what is left of the phonebook is a sad remnant of a once great old concept that brought information to the public.
When I saw those pathetic books on my step I couldn't help thinking of that Steve Martin movie The Jerk. He plays Navin R. Johnson, a fellow so clueless who is adopted by a black family and never realizes that he is white. My favorite scene involves Navin seeing his name in the phonebook and thinking he is now famous. That scene would never have the same impact today; besides, "a jerk" such as he would probably not be able to use an iPad much less find his name on it.
I have to say that I never even took the wrapping off those puny new phonebooks. I just dumped them right into the trash for recycling day. I sat in my chair, looked at the BlackBerry on the table, and thought about those good old days when I could let my fingers do the walking. These days it's all done by typing a word in and getting 10 million results in three seconds. It's really efficient and time saving and I know it's the way to go these days, but it still doesn't feel the same and I doubt that it ever will.
Photo Credit: urbachletter.com