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Turning the page on phone books

Phone books have also become a thing of the past.

A headline in the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star made me lament an old friend.

That friend was always there for me ever since I can remember. The friend was with me at every job I had; every change of address.

Not anymore.

That friend is the telephone book.

Business phone directories are still around but residential phone books are disappearing as fast as film cameras.

The headline in the Lincoln newspaper said: “Last company delivering phone books in Lincoln gets permission to stop.”

The caption under an accompanying photo says, “The printed telephone book might soon become a thing of the past in Nebraska.”

It’s already a thing of the past for most folks in our area. Every year we get one or two business directories delivered which have Yellow Pages and are from private companies who charge businesses to post their listings. They’re not real phone books, though; not in my opinion.

The Palmerton Telephone Company still has a residential phone directory it sends to its customers but it’s smaller than it used to be a decade ago.

That’s because more people have cellular phones with service from multiple sources instead of “landlines.”

I can go back to the days when Ma Bell had a monopoly in the area and everybody had one phone number in their home. There are positive points to having the monopoly broken up including the excessive charges that she began charging. Back then there was a toll call merely for people from Lehighton to call friends or businesses in neighboring Jim Thorpe or Palmerton.

When I grew up in Weissport, our first phone was on a party line. I wonder how many young people know what a party line is?

For those who don’t, it meant that even though you had your own phone number neighbors could pick up the phone and listen to your conversations because there was one line serving several homes.

Today, every member of a household might not only have a phone but their personal telephone number. Obviously you wouldn’t want your child’s number listed in a public telephone directory. In fact, the way telemarketers and robo callers have become such nuisances, you might not even want your own number in a phone book.

Another reason it’s difficult for a company to print is residential phone book is with different phone companies providing service, it means that individuals have different area codes, different number prefixes (Lehighton used to be strictly 377 and the Panther Valley was just 645) and in some cases, periodic changes of numbers because they use “burner phones” or telephones for which they pay a monthly subscription fee.

Phone books used to be a trusted friend. When I grew up I could reach any friend or neighbor by looking up their number in the local telephone directory.

As a reporter, I relied on phone books to contact sources, check the spelling of names and even check who to contact in government for information.

I worked for a trucking company at one time and we had a pile of telephone directories on the shelf, some for major cities and others for various towns were served.

Just like with encyclopedias, most information you’ll find in telephone directories has been transferred to the computer. In fact, on computers you not only can find telephone numbers (providing the residents haven’t gone totally to cellphones), but you can find neighbors, ages of the occupants and names of people living in the household - although the info isn’t always accurate.

Besides telephone books, we used to always be able to depend on “directory assistance” to get a number. This meant that you called a number on the telephone and an operator would respond, “Directory assistance, how can I help you.” You merely said “Harvey Appleton in Kingston, New York,” and within seconds a voice would come on the line: “That number is 555-321-7654.” At one time the directory assistance number was free, then the telephone companies began charging for the service each time you used it.

Things sure have changed since the days of directory assistance. Computers were meant to be conveniences but they aren’t as convenient as the telephone directories used to be.

The main telephone provider in Lincoln, Nebraska is Windstream and the newspaper quotes a spokesman for the firm there as saying that the printed phone book “no longer provides the same utility it once did.”

Times change and we have to adapt ... But I still miss my old friend - the phone book.