Are phone books a thing of the past?

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, November 14, 2017

By Chuck Witt

Is it possible that phone books will go the way of the dinosaurs?

It seems that each year sees the local phone book become thinner and thinner.  The same phenomenon is probably affecting phone books in other cities as well due to the emergence of cell phones and the fact that phone books apparently only reflect  numbers for landline phones.

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As the population ages, and younger phone users choose cell phones as their primary means of communication, the presence of landline phones will continue to diminish.

And, if phone books are to be linked only with landline phones, those books will continue to get smaller as well.

Of course, phone books still have numerous listings of numbers for commercial entities, those which are willing to pay to have their names and numbers listed.  Residential landline phone numbers have always been listed for free…well, of course, the cost of the phone service apparently included having one’s number listed, so it wasn’t REALLY free.

There was an added advantage to the phone book and that was the ability to find the address of someone as well as their phone number.  But with the mobility attached to the cell phone, tying someone down to a single location becomes less available.

The Bluegrass Heritage Museum here has an entire room devoted to the phone service, with numerous displays of phone equipment through the ages, including the old plug-in switchboard, a visual phone (which looks like a compact television and never caught on…until Skype) and a telephone booth.

There’s another vanishing symbol of bygone telephone service, a device which protected an individual from the weather while he or she placed a call or, when located in a hotel lobby or the lobby of a train station, provided a buffer from the surrounding noise.

The easily recognizable English phone booths, usually referred to as ‘call boxes’ or ‘kiosks’ seem to represent the epitome of public phone use, a certain aplomb carried to a commonplace occurrence.  There was a certain grandiosity in seeing Michael Caine or Pierce Brosnan or even Peter Cushing stepping into a ‘call box’ in the midst of busy London traffic, usually in a typical London downpour.

Perhaps the most that can be said of the majority of mundane, American-designed phone booths is that they were so plentiful that Clark Kent could easily find one to make his quick change to Superman, although no one ever explained why he was never seen doing his sartorial cross-over since at least the top half of the booth was glass.  Ever tried changing clothes while hunched down?

A more humanly comedic instance was relayed by Sandy Stultz recently while discussing the museum’s phone display and the visitation of some elementary school students.  Some of them were unable to grasp the concept of rotating the dial of the old type phones in order to register a number!  Imagine the difficulty they would have trying to crank an old-style wall phone and use a separate ear piece and mouthpiece.

But getting back to the potential demise of the phone book, there may perhaps be some advantage to no longer having these tomes available; it will not be necessary to drive around the neighborhood and look at a plethora of yellow booklets encased in plastic adorning the driveway of every house when they get delivered.

Still, there will be a lot of old-timers who will miss having one alongside their home phone, dial-type or push button, and being able to look up a person’s address as well as their number.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at