Die, Phone Book, DieS

These days your fingers are likely walking on iPad touchscreens, not dead tree pages. After a decade of obsolescence, the local phone directory is finally getting the chop as states wise up to reality.

When was the last time you looked anything up in the phone book? No, I can't remember, either. In which case, it is excellent news that the White Pages, a Brobdingnagian exercise in paper, chemical, and energy waste, is to be pensioned off. Sent to the great hamster cage in the sky. Ripped in two by twirly-moustachioed men in leopardskin leotards (and then borne off to the great hamster cage in the sky.)

This month, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania approved Verizon's request to put the kibosh on the WPs, and Virginia should be next in line, making a total of 15 states who have either nixed or are trying to nix the directories. Between 2005 and 2008, usage of these doorstops/booster seats/aides for short actors fell from 25 to 11%. Imagine what the rate must be as we approach 2011.

And this can only be great news for the environment. We all know the arguments against annually printing tens of millions of tons worth of paper—the nasty stuff inside the ink, a fatuous use of paper recycled or not, the waste of energy creating, packaging and delivering them. The human cost, however, is higher. Pity the vertebrae of the guys carting them from van to apartment block, the poor OCD freaks in apartment blocks who, once a year, look at the newly delivered skyscrapers or midden heaps (depending on the OCD status of the delivery person) of phone books in their hallway and shudder. Although take a look at what Seattle's recent solution to the increasing problem of unloved and unwanted directories is. It's innovative, as is the Yellow Pages' decision to introduce an opt-out service—online, of course.

For over a decade, the Internet has been the first port of call for anyone wanting to find a number fast. And mobile devices have made it even faster. In fact, the only people who will bemoan the passing of the phone book are probably stalkers—who, if you haven't already, I suggest you turn to cyber stalking. You'll waste less shoe leather that way.

But before we consign it to history, a little lesson in phone directory history for you. This year, it turned 132. It's come a long way since its first inception, a 20-page volume for New Haven which included eight pages of instructions of how to speak on the telephone. (Before hanging up, the caller had to say "That is all." The guy on the other end's response? "OK." And profanities were to be reported to the operator.) And if imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then consider a new, yet almost identical product, aimed at a new market: the Internet Yellow Pages.

It's a 1,150-page (totally nerd-proof—ha!) book that, as well as listing over 10,000 useful Internet sites—which is probably the equivalent of having a worldwide phone book that only caters for people with the surname of Ponsonby-Twisleton-Whykam-Sidebottom. There's all sorts of useful information in there, including how to get connected, a browser guide, and information about the technology itself. ("The Internet is situated just northwest of Santa's grotto, and is powered by shifts of elves on bicycles.")

But what I really hope it has is a chapter on protocol—not protocols, but the etiquette of the Net. What do you say to someone who's shown you their genitalia on ChatRoulette? How should one reply to the Nigerian Prince whose mother's body has been filled with gold ingots and needs to be repatriated to the U.S.A. and you, kind sir, can help by giving your bank details to me in a manner that is satisfactory to both parties? After all, if it took 17 years between the invention of the Reis telephone and the first phone directory, then I think we can say that Net use is still in its infancy, and thus merits a guide. That is all.


Die, Phone Book, DieRepublished with permission from FastCompany.com. Authored by Addy Dugdale. Photo via BrutalSF/Flickr.