Earlier this week Slashdot ran a story on obsolete technical skills
, and it inspired me to share my personal level of insanity with the group. So, if you like weird posts this one is for you. If not, tune in… whenever the hell I finish the other posts I have unfinished right now.
Back when I was a kid, I grew up in a modest town of about 50,000 people. Too big to be a small town, not big enough to get on most maps. Our phone book was about one inch thick. Small towns had phone books that were essentially glorified pamphlets, about 1/4″ thick, and even then they shared it with all the neighboring towns. I knew people from small towns who thought phone numbers were four digits long, since the first three digits were always the same (and the then-optional area code was the same for probably a hundred miles).
When my family would go on trips we would visit “big cities” like Dallas, Houston, Orlando, Memphis, etc. and in the hotel rooms I would notice that the phone books were always really thick. Like 4-5″ thick. And sometimes, that was just the yellow pages, the white pages were an entirely different book, itself 3″ at least. And they always had these awesome pictures on the front of the local skyline instead of the giant public domain “fingers do the walking” logo that would grace the phone book back home.
So consequently I made the connection early on in my mind that living in a huge city meant you were a success. And living in a huge city meant a huge phone book. Therefore, having a huge phone book in your home meant you were a success. A tenuous connection, but even then I had big dreams of moving to a “big city” later in life and one of these days I would have a big phone book in my house because hey, that’s what big successful people living in big successful cities do.
Years and years pass. I grow up, go through High School, go to College, graduate, get married, and eventually my Wife and I move to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. We get good paying jobs and rent then eventually buy a house. Initially the phone books that would appear on our porch would be the same standard one-inch affairs I grew up with because we live in the suburbs and they only cover the suburbs, but then one day a bag with two phone books, a 3-inch white pages and a 5-inch yellow pages, shows up on our front porch. These phone books cover the entire Metroplex. They have amazing photos of the Dallas skyline, with Reunion Tower on them (under a stuck-on ad for some ambulance chaser, but that peels off easily enough).
I’m elated. After all these years, I’ve finally made it! I’m finally in a good job making good money and living in a big city and hey, like all big successful people living in big cities, I have a pair of bigass phone books. I’ve arrived! Every time I look at these phone books I’ll remember how I’m in a big city.
So I put these phone books next to the phone and the first thing my Wife says was “Just throw those things away. We have the Internet now.”
I ignore the order and I keep the phone books under the phone cradle for a few years, exchanging them out when a new one comes in. I never tell my Wife the insanely silly “but I’ve always wanted a big phone book” bit because I’m not in the mood to get laughed at (though, apparently, I don’t mind that people reading my blog will laugh at me). I get to keep them in place with the razor thin “well what if we want to look up a phone number when the power’s off or our Internet is down?” excuse.
But then one day I’m cleaning the house and I’m trying to reduce some clutter and it occurs to me that in two years I’ve never opened these things, ever, and they’re just collecting dust and the odds of the power going out or the Internet going down at the same time as my cell phone battery dying and me having to have some obscure phone number are vanishingly small. Oh, and in the years since we moved out here we’ve switched to Vonage so we couldn’t even use the phone in a power outage anyway. And I now have Internet access on my phone (hell my wife has a Treo) so if we needed to look up a number there’s better ways. And the inconvenience of a computer in another room is moot since I put Ubuntu on an old laptop and keep it in the kitchen, hooked up wirelessly to our router.
So I tossed the phone books into the recycle bin (literally) and do so for every other phone book that comes in. At some point I figure they’ll stop putting them on my doorstep, and people will stop advertising in them. They’ll go the way of the pay phone and TV Guide’s printed listings.
Now I’ll just have to contend with dialing ten digits to call someone or remembering ten different area codes to be my reminder of how I’m in a big city. That’ll work.