Somebody left a new telephone directory on my doorstep today.
early phone directory cover
I can’t begin to imagine why, or what I might do with it.  If I want to ring a friend, the number is in my phone – and the number which actually gets to them isn’t in the directory in the first place.  If I want to find an organisation, I go to its web site – and if I really just want to find its phone number, I google it.  And if I am desperate to look a phone number in the old fashioned way, BT has a simple and efficient online search tool.

Whoever produces these things somehow knows that.  The glory days of A-D, E-K, L-R and S-Z are long gone.  This is an emaciated volume, a fraction of the thickness of just one of the old quartet.  But it still keeps coming, as unstoppable as it is redundant.

Of course there are some people who must still find it useful.  Not everybody has the internet at their fingertips.    But this new book can be of no earthly use to them either.  The geographic area it covers is so truncated in so wilfully eccentric a way that disappointment must be the norm.

So we have two things going on.  A channel which has become redundant for a large and growing proportion of the population, but which staggers on, refusing to die.  But perhaps because of that reduction in its value, it is a channel which has been pared back too far to be of very much use to those who might still need it, so encouraging the vicious circle to ratchet round.

So how do we clear away the detritus of the old way for those for whom it is redundant?  How, conversely, do we preserve not just the appearance but the utility of the old way for those who still depend upon it?

This is not just a problem about phone books.


  1. Oh, public strategist, you clearly do not live in the same sort of environment as I do, in small-town, semi-rural simplicity. Our potential connections are far fewer, and can be happily shrunk into a single volume, bringing together business pages, residential pages and yellow-pages pages. How handy! Our phone book is much used: ripped, scrawled-on and splattered (well, it is in the kitchen). I can honestly report that it has never crossed my mind to consult anything virtual in the pursuit of a local number. I wouldn’t dream of climbing upstairs to the study and firing up the computer – which, admitedly, is a bit like getting the Tardis going only much, much slower. No, I’m certain that there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with phone books. You’re just living in the wrong place for them.

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