I went out to get the mail yesterday (my favourite time of the day- I love mail!), and there was a small pile of wet, plastic bags full of heavy, soggy phone books just waiting to be claimed by residents of our building, who would presumably give them good homes and lovingly blow-dry their sodden pages... The sight of all of those disintegrating phone books brought up a lot of thoughts and questions for me. I'd like to share some of those thoughts with you now and see what you think.
1) I'm sure there's a reason our phone books were delivered on a day when it was raining heavily, but could the people who deliver them perhaps have tried to find a more appropriate location to dump them other than in a heap on the ground beside the mailboxes (where they are not only not under any kind of rain shelter, but pretty close to sitting in puddles)?
2) Printing and delivering millions of phone books seems like a huge waste of paper, ink, plastic (for shoddily protecting them), and petrol (the gas that's used for the massive trucks needed to ship unnecessary quantities of enormous books all over the place). Shouldn't there be some kind of system whereby a person can opt out of (or, better yet, opt into) receiving phone books?
3) Do we need new phone books? We already have some, and we've never even used them. Not even once. I mean, aren't phone books a little bit antediluvian? Does anyone ever even use them anymore? Isn't the Internet easier/better?
4) Who's going to clean up the pile of plastic and pulp that's left by the fence over there in a week or two when the people who live here have all declined to take wet, (arguably useless) books into their homes?
I think that's enough questions. Now for my answers/opinions.
1) Yes. Leaving them in the rain was dumb/lazy. They could easily have been left by our front doors where they would have been more sheltered from the elements, and thus not rendered useless by water damage.
2) I think there should absolutely be a system whereby people who want phone books can tell the companies who print them that, yes, they would like phone books, please. (Or, at the very least, that no, they would not like phone books, please.) According to paperlesspetition.org, the Yellow Pages industry dropped over 540 million phone books in North America in 2006- that's way more than one per person! (In the UK, according to the Yellow Pages website, it was 28.3 million copies in 2006. That's about one for every two people, which is still a lot!) Why so many?! Well, in the olden days when people still had landline telephones, they would automatically receive the Yellow Pages. Now that more people are switching to cell phones, there's no real list of recipients, so they use a system of "saturation distribution" to make sure everyone and his brother/sister/dog/goldfish can get his hands (paws/pectoral fins) on a copy. Also, there can be many different versions in a single market- some people could get as many as 10 different phone books! Also, if Yellow Pages wants to make money, they have to say things like "we have a distribution of 70 gajillion" so that advertisers will fork over the cash to get their ads in there. If people could easily say no to phone books, those numbers would go down; maybe it would be harder to convince advertisers to splash out on pricey half-page ads. Yellow Pages apparently makes 97% of it's revenue ($14 billion in the US in 2006) from printed directories, and only 3% from online ones. That's why there are so many phone books! Some people try to opt of of receiving them, but it's not easy. I read one account of a person who had called the distributor and requested not to be sent any more phone books, but who continued to receive them. When she called to find out what was going on, she was told that the delivery people are given a list of people who do not want to receive the books, but it's so few people (since it's practically impossible to figure out how to make the request in the first place) that it's easier just to deliver them to everyone than to have to check the list. It's really hard to not get phone books. But I say there's got to be a better way. Maybe it could even be a system where you put a card on your doorknob like the "Do Not Disturb" ones at hotels. Yeah, that's it! The week before phone books come out, they could send a postcard out to everyone letting them know when the books would be delivered. That postcard could have one side that says "NO PHONEBOOKS, PLEASE" that you could hang on your door on delivery day. That way nobody has to keep track of addresses, which seems pretty complicated. It would be simple and easy. I am a genius. (I know that sending out millions of postcards seems like a waste of paper, but it's not as bad as millions of giant books, and it's the best I could come up with.)
3) As for the usefulness of phone books, well, I had to give this one the most thought. My first reaction was that they should just stop printing the things, but having considered it a bit more, I'm not so sure that's the way to go. Though some people argue that phone books are antiquated and want to get rid of them (like the good folks over at Paperless Petition), some people still find phone books to be quite useful. You may be surprised to know that although I use the Internet all the time, I am actually one of those people. Okay, sure- it is completely ridiculous to print 540 million copies of something that's going to be outdated almost as soon as it hits the presses. One could argue that if the phone directory were online, it could be easily updated- no need to print another 540 million books in a year's time. Sounds good. But not everyone has access to the Internet. And not everyone wants to/can afford to pay to call for directory assistance when he/she needs to find a phone number. If I needed a plumber, the first place I would look would be in the book. I like the ease of being able to circle the numbers I have called and make notes next to different companies if I'm comparing price quotes. I find that difficult to do with online directories, and I'm a paper person by nature, so I find the phone book easier when I want to find certain things. That said, I would still opt out of receiving new phone books if I had the option. I can sacrifice a little convenience in the name of saving some trees. Besides, most of us have old phone books lying around the house; I'm happy just to use those for a while longer. Surely some of the businesses that existed in 2004 will still be around, right? It's not really life-threatening for me not to have all of the latest listings, is it? But it is life-threatening to a bunch of trees, so I still think I should be able to decide if I get phone books or not. (Please see my brilliant plan under number 2. It works well in this case, too. I don't have to opt out forever. If I feel like my 2004 book isn't cutting it anymore, I can get new ones. But I don't have to. Did I say "genius" already?)
4) Who's going to clean up the mess over there by the mailbox? Well, judging by past experiences with other people's unwanted mail, probably me. Humph. Stupid, useless, wet phonebooks! Grumble, grumble... Maybe after they dry out I can use the pages to make some kind of phone book crafts like the trees and angels people used to make with old Reader's Digests? Hmmm...
So what do you think? Phone books- only good for dinosaurs, or "keep 'em coming; I hate trees!" I'm interested to hear your thoughts!
P.S. There really are penguins coming your way in a post or two- I just really needed to talk about phone books! I'm done now. Thanks for your patience. =)