The Residential Phone Book's Number Is Up

lady leaning against a stack of phone booksLong relegated to a makeshift foot stool or door stop, the residential phone book (a.k.a the White Pages) is finally getting the official disconnect notice.

Major telecommunications companies have received permission from regulators to stop printing and delivering the bulky things, the Associated Press reported. New York, Florida and Pennsylvania gave Verizon the OK to halt distribution this month, and Virginia is likely to follow. Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin already have petitioned or received the go-ahead to close the book on what was once an American fixture.

The phone book goes back as far as 1878, perhaps reaching its peak in mass culture consciousness more than 100 years later, when Steve Martin's imbecilic character in The Jerk (1979) celebrated its arrival with the famous movie line "The new phone book's here!" Spotting his name, Martin's character, Navin R. Johnson declares, "I'm a somebody now. Millions of people look at this every day."

Not anymore. A SuperMedia Inc. by Gallup poll referred indicated that the white pages as a primary number-reference source plummeted from an already meager 25% of households in 2005 to 10% in 2008. Landlines are disappearing by 10% each year, which would decrease the number of listings anyway.

Internet phone listings, number-storing functions on telephones and the explosion of cell phones, which usually don't provide listed numbers, are encouraging telecoms to hang up on history. It is also environmentally and financially prudent, given that Verizon told AP that it could save 17,000 tons of paper per year if it stopped printing white pages, not to mention the cost of delivery. The New York City phonebook alone weighs 3 pounds, 9 ounces, the story said, which could perhaps give a hardcover War and Peace a run for its tree-killing money.

Verizon and AT&T, the two landline giants, will produce electronic listings, a CD phone book and a printed copy upon request. AT&T said that customers who already have the options asked for a printed copy just 2% of the time, according to the article.

The Yellow Pages, meanwhile, will apparently endure in bound form.
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