Are Phone Books Obsolete?

Photo Credit: Andrew Sullivan

Do you remember looking up numbers in the phone book? I don’t. My parents used to when I was young and I remember that, but I’ve never had to do it myself. By the time I was old enough to need to, there was Google.

Once upon a time (or so I’ve been told), if you wanted to find an Italian restaurant for dinner, you had to look one up in the phone book and call the restaurant to ask about the menu, availability, reservations, etc… Even after all of that, you had no way of knowing what the average person thought of the place.

Nowadays, I can search for locations near me using my computer or cell phone. I read reviews on Yelp, locate the menu online, and search Google Map for directions. If I think I need a reservation or I have additional questions, I can find contact information on the website.

So what do people use phone books for these days? In my peer group, the answer is absolutely nothing. Most of them go straight to the recycling bin. This is why I support opt-in phone book distribution.

San Francisco banned the unauthorized delivery of the Yellow Pages a couple of months ago, and while this was a great step, it didn’t solve the problem for the rest of us. However, Californians are now one step closer—the Californian government just approved Verizon’s request to stop automatic delivery of the white pages.

Verizon will provide an online directory of the white pages, and customers may request a free CD-ROM or traditional print version of the information. The Yellow Pages will still be delivered.

According to Tim McCallion, president of Verizon’s western region, “Moving from automatic to on-request delivery of the white pages listing is expected to save an estimated 1,870 tons of material from California’s waste stream.”

This is a great start, but what about the Yellow Pages? Here’s why I think they should both be opt-in only:

  • Less people have landlines and cell phones generally aren’t listed in the Yellow Pages.
  • AT&T estimates that in areas where they have been allowed to utilize opt-in distribution, only 2 percent of customers have requested a copy.
  • 74 percent of Americans have internet access at home, so it is easy for these people to look up phone numbers for free in online directories. The people who do not have internet access can opt in.
  • We do pay for phone books, via higher bills and taxes. Although this probably won’t change, one can hope.
  • An estimated 5 million trees are cut down each year to print the white pages.


When was the last time you used a phone book?


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