Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What Ever Happened to the Phone Book?

Finding someone's phone number online is next-to-impossible today.

In the old days of the telephone, you got a phone book once a year.  Sometimes it was one book, with the white pages in the front, and the yellow pages (advertising) in the back.   Later on, they added blue pages for government.

When you wanted to call someone, you looked up their number in the phone book, or called directory assistance at 555-1212 or later on, 411.   It was free.   For long distance directory assistance, you dialed (and I mean dialed) the area code and then 555-1212 and they told you the number, unless it was one of a very few people who paid extra to be "unlisted".

Everybody knew everybody and the phone number was not some firewall you hid behind.   Of course, we did not have caller-ID back then, so people could call you up and breathe heavily on the phone (as one admirer did in High School to Mark) or harass you or whatever.   Getting a call traced was a pain in the ass.

As time progressed, we stopped using the phone book.  It started when they came up with multiple phone books - multiple yellow pages, really.  The Yellow Pages, the Real Yellow Pages, the OneBook, and so forth.   Pretty soon, you had more phone books than you knew what to do with.

Bear in mind that the yellow pages was essentially our Google of the era.  If you wanted to find a business or a product, it was basically your only outlet.   All that has changed, for the better, of course.

And with the advent of early cell phones, once you called someone, they were in your "contacts" list and you never had to look up their "number" again.   Phone books started going by the wayside.  Online directories started to flourish.

And online, you could search for phone numbers on, or other sites.  Even Google had a free phone number lookup service.   But in recent years, all that went away.  Google decided to get out of the business as angry users complained that publishing their published phone numbers was an "invasion of privacy" and just gave up.   The "free" white pages sites, all ended up linking to a pitch for money from Itellisys or something like that - which would ask to you sign up for a membership, only to then tell you the number you wanted is unlisted or whatever.

And since cell phone numbers are unpublished, well, half the time you can't find someone's number online anyway.

The final nail in the coffin was, however, that no one calls anymore.   If the phone rings these days, chances are it is an illegal telemarketer call or some con artist trying to convince you that your computer has a virus or that the IRS is about to arrest you.

Voice communication is essentially dead - and we let it die on the vine.  It has been replaced by text messaging, e-mails, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as video conferencing applications like Skype or whatever.   Only geezers answer the phone.

I have a great idea for a Silicon Valley prank:   Get some venture capitalists to attend a pitch meeting and try to sell them on a new "app" that actually lets people talk to each other with their voices.   It will be really cool - everyone will be assigned a ten-digit "number" (sort of like a user name) and when you want to "call out" to someone (sort of like tweeting), you enter this number and you can actually speak to them and they can speak back!  Amazing what new technology can do, eh?

You laugh, it probably will make it through the second round of funding before they figure out they were snookered.   Maybe this could be a good crowd-funded app.  Millions of boobs would crowd-fund this and all you'd have to do is mail them a $10 flip-phone to fulfill your end of the deal.

The long and the short of it is that the phone, in its traditional sense, is dead, dead, dead.   No one uses it anymore.  No one calls.  No one has a "twisted pair" POTS phone line connected to "The Switch" where you "dial" a number and let it ring until someone answers and you talk to them.   And even if you had all of this, there is no longer any way to look up anyone's phone number to talk to them if you wanted to, unless their phone number is listed on their website or some other web page.

I wonder if the death of voice communication is the reason why people seem to disconnected from one another these days and can't or won't listen to each other?   It is easier to ignore a text or e-mail than it is a phone call.

And voice communication probably isn't coming back, except perhaps as some sort of "app" like I humorously described above, at which point, bearded hipsters will claim to have "discovered" it much as they claim to have "discovered" the Park Model RV by calling it a "tiny house".

And everything old is new again....