Directory Drama

Can I Get Your Digits?

Time for a book-burning party.

By Sam Holder May 12, 2009

One of my favorite Mitch Hedberg jokes:

"Whenever I walk, people try to hand me flyers. And when someone tries to hand me a flyer, it’s kinda like they’re saying ‘Here, you throw this away.’"

Well, imagine 500 of those flyers—you know, the ones advertising 11 a.m. happy hours at strip clubs and acupuncture yoga and singles blood drives—packaged, bound, and delivered right to your doorstep. You don’t even get a choice! Where’s the gleeful (yet obviously deeply bitter) twentysomething striking up some conversation with me about rain? What about my awkward attempts to avoid eye contact? No. Instead, one day it just appears—and there it stays … suffocating in that ratty plastic bag in my driveway.

Yes, the phone book.

I face two options when that book arrives (neither of which involve actually using it): 1) immediately throw it into the recycling bin; or 2) be a good citizen, roll my eyes, drag it into the house, and put it in the junk drawer. To stay. FOREVER. Or at least until next season’s edition rolls off the presses.

So with great fanfare I welcome Oregon House Bill 3477 —a piece of legislation that forces the directory publishers to obtain permission from homeowners to include them in the seasonal bombardment of paper cinder-blocks. The Portland Tribune reports that co–sponsors of the bill, Reps. Jules Kopel-Bailey, Ben Cannon, and Carolyn Tomei, were approached by Albert Kaufman, a community organizer, to promote the legislation as both an environmental and common-sense measure. “If no one in the country needed phone books, or we printed 90 percent less of them, then we would be cutting down a lot less trees," Kaufman says.

I’d have to agree. Now, I realize there are uses for the phone book—namely, as a booster seat. OK, OK. Unconnected folks—like my grandmother and, most likely, the vast majority of her generation—still use the phone book with great frequency. And I certainly don’t begrudge the resistance to change. Hell, I was still rocking the Zack Morris cell phone when the iPhone launched. (I now have a Razr which I think is so cool.)

But c’mon. Phone books? Have you heard of "The Google"? I mean, even the iPhone is now mainstream. I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2007 and my hiking bud carried an iPhone. While we looked like escaped convicts (just check my Facebook page) we could rattle off the exact temperature and barometric pressure, identify the storm system ahead (and its ETA), and provide a full description of the restaurant at which we would later be eating many hamburgers—all with laser precision. And at 5,000 feet in a snowstorm.

With the publishing industry hanging on by its bleeding fingernails, and the Kindle leading the charge to an all–digital, all user–controlled system for the consumption of media and information, isn’t it strange to still have that ugly fifteen-pound brick delivered as regularly as the seasons?

If you agree, call your rep and get this bill passed. And then call the Yellow Pages and get your grandma on the "To Deliver" list.

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