Phone Books Are Getting Thinner As Cellphones Take Over

One upon a time if you knew someone’s name, you could go to a thing called a “phone book” and look up their phone number and where they lived.

As cellphones becomes people’s primary telephone, more and more households are canceling their landlines—and removing themselves from the phone book. In fact, even though Manhattan attracts 10,000 new residents per year, the 2007 phone book is 142 pages smaller than last year’s edition.

Should cellphones be listed in the phone book? Most people say no.

From the NYT:

Consumers and privacy advocates balked at the idea in 2004, when most of the big wireless carriers said they wanted to compile a nationwide directory.

Cellphones may make it easier for people to reach each other, yet Americans are very guarded about whom they want calling them.

But what people gain in privacy is lost in a sense of community, reflected in shrinking phone books, said James E. Katz, chairman of the communications department at Rutgers University.

“People would meet someone, want to know where they lived, and look up their name in the phone book. And there was a certain ritual aspect to it when people would look forward to the new phone book,” Mr. Katz said. “So in a sense, it was a way of social visibility and social involvement. That whole way of doing things, it seems, has largely disappeared.”

Oh, well. That’s why we’ve got the Internet. —MEGHANN MARCO

As Cellphones Multiply, Phone Books Get Slimmer [NYT]
(Photo: Larsz)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Doc Benway says:

    Hell No! The nice thing about my mobile is that it isn’t listed and I don’t need to worry about all the telemarketing scum calling it.

  2. acambras says:

    I don’t think I even have a paper phone book at home anymore. I look up numbers online.

  3. Sam Glover says:

    If they do this, I really am switching to prepaid, whatever the cost.

  4. Doc Benway says:

    PS Meeting someone and getting their address without their permission is stalking. Mr. Katz should stick to trying to con his students.

  5. dbeahn says:

    If I’m listed, then there’s a possibility maybe one or 2 people a year that I WANT to have find me will. I KNOW that at least 40 “survey” and “political” and “charitable” companies will find me.

    So yeah, I’ll stay unlisted.

  6. jamesdenver says:

    I seriously haven’t actually used a phone book in about seven years. They drop them off at my door and they go straight to the recycle bin.

    Why on earth does anyone need a phone book if they have an fast internet connection at home? I can find a local place/name/number/address, or map in about 20 seconds.

    And they sell advertising based on distribution. So even if they have high distribution numbers I’ll bet the majority end up in the trash or collecting dust somewhere.

  7. DeeJayQueue says:

    phone books were cool when there were people out there who you wouldn’t mind so much randomly calling you. Especially if you had a business, or were someone like a teacher or coach and someone needed to get a hold of you. Now the only thing that pops into peoples heads when they think about their number being listed is “ZOMG teh telemarket0rz and teh stalkz0rz!” Plus, by now if you have a cell phone you can pick and choose who you give the number to, and you keep the important numbers that you call often in it, so you don’t have to worry about “Oh I need to call coach Z to see when practice is, but I don’t have his number” because you DO have his number in your cell phone.

  8. dohtem says:

    Phone books? Ha! When the AT&T books come, they go directly in the dumpster.

    With the internet + GOOG411 + FREE411 + mobile search on my cell phone, the phone book is completely useless (except for those pizza coupons in the back, but thats why we have the Entertainment book, right?)

  9. Fuzz says:

    I get 3 different phone books every year delivered to my door, all from different companies, all containing essentially the same stuff and I have no idea why. If I need a phone number, I look it up online. It is usually a lot quicker.

  10. consumed says:

    Phone books shouldn’t be just given out free. I get at least 3 phone books on my front porch a year. I usually strip the coupons out of the back (of which very few are actually good deals) then discard them. I usually get one from AT&T and two from the others (Yellowbook and McLeod??). Those who want them (i.e. my grandparents) should have to opt-in and pay a yearly subscription fee. It would save a LOT of wasted paper, landfill space, and money in the process. The rest of us can use modern means (web, cell phone, SMS, etc). BTW does anyone ever know what ever happened to AOLYellowPages on AIM?

  11. rbb says:

    Navin R. Johnson: The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!

    Harry Hartounian: Boy, I wish I could get that excited about nothing.

    Navin R. Johnson: Nothing? Are you kidding? Page 73 – Johnson, Navin R.! I’m somebody now! Millions of people look at this book everyday! This is the kind of spontaneous publicity – your name in print – that makes people. I’m in print! Things are going to start happening to me now.

  12. I use the yellow pages for local listings. They work better than google in many ways, especially with localized businesses. Then again, I hate superpages, etc. They rape businesses to list in superpages ($40 a month – hello!!)

  13. cnc1019 says:

    In college, we used the big yellow pages to soak up the melting ice from the defrosting freezer. Worked like a charm. Other than that, it was used as a door stop or a step stool for the higher shelves when the women folk were around.

  14. @dougm: Acutally, I was reading some stories on datacenter electrical consumption, and I bet the arguement can be made that the data centers which hold all the google servers use more energy and burn more carbon than all the phone books.

    it’s not a straight comparison – very apples to oranges. Electricity is only cheap in certain areas.

  15. mikyrok says:

    The title for this post should be “Phone books: Getting easier to rip in half”

  16. Chairman-Meow says:

    Another good reason for NOT listing a cell phone is the fact that you (in the US Anyways) pay for incoming calls to your phone unlike land-lines which you do not.

  17. r81984 says:

    Your not listed in the public phone book, but anyone with money can buy the list of cell phones that you are on. This means if you are in the public phone book or not, telemarketers will have your number. Your best bet is to list your number on the national do not call list.

    Cell phones need to be in public phonebooks that means in-print and online (they are the same list).

    I hate it when I try to search for a reverse number that called my phone and I cannot find who it is because it is cell phone.

    If you do not want your cell listed then opt out just like you do with a landline, you do not have to ruin it for the rest of us that want our numbers listed.

  18. winnabago says:

    As soon as they go to a caller-pays system of cell phones in this country, they can start listing them. Not a second sooner.

    This combined with compulsory caller id for everyone might actually be better than the current system. Then you can block who you don’t want AND also be able to find someone when you really need to.

  19. pjsammy says:

    @rbb: Stay away from these cans!

  20. dohtem says:


    Your not listed in the public phone book, but anyone with money can buy the list of cell phones that you are on. This means if you are in the public phone book or not, telemarketers will have your number. Your best bet is to list your number on the national do not call list.

    Cell phones need to be in public phonebooks that means in-print and online (they are the same list).

    I hate it when I try to search for a reverse number that called my phone and I cannot find who it is because it is cell phone.

    If you do not want your cell listed then opt out just like you do with a landline, you do not have to ruin it for the rest of us that want our numbers listed.

    How about we have you wackos that want to be listed opt-in?

  21. MercuryPDX says:

    @jamesdenver: Ditto. I leave them on the doorstep until trash day and into the recycler they go. If this was a once a year occurrence I really can’t complain; however it seems like I get a new set (yellow and white pages) of phone books from different companies about 5-6 times a year.

    The sad thing is there’s no way to stop them from delivering them. Calling the company to stop delivery does nothing.

  22. CRSpartan01 says:

    I haven’t had a landline since my sophomore year of college, almost four years ago. All I need is my cell’s contact list and 1-800-ASK-GOOG.

  23. r81984 says:

    “How about we have you wackos that want to be listed opt-in?” -dohtem

    Why not just have you paranoid wierdos that think everyone is out to get them, just opt out.

    There are more nonparanoid people that would rather use the phone book then paranoid weirdos like yourself that would want to opt out.

  24. rockergal says:

    I hate using online yellowpages, alot of times I don’t know the name of the business so i can just page through the book and find the listing I need LOCALLY.

  25. RandomHookup says:


    There’s something to be said for this. We needed a tow truck (dumbass tenant blocked my car and left town with the keys). It was faster finding the local tow guys with the book than the Google.

  26. adamondi says:

    Anyone who thinks that phone books help to develop a sense of community is retarded.

    A cell number phone book would be outdated before it was printed, since changing your cell number takes only a couple of minutes and most carriers don’t charge to do it.

    I like not being listed in any phone book. I prefer to have only people I know calling my number.

  27. AcidReign says:

    …..I’ll second what a lot of people say about cellphones and paying for unwanted, incoming calls. I still have a land line, partially for DSL, and partially because I like for friends or family to be able to easily look me up. As to stalkers, I’m in good shape and I know how to use my knives and shotgun.

    …..I use caller id and the answering machine to screen out calls I don’t want. Despite being on the no-call list, I still get a lot. In the past week, (nearly all near dinner-time) according to my call box:

    ESH 25 (205-408-0107) local number, reverse look-up doesn’t work)
    Alatec Heating (never done business with them)
    Foundry Rescue (local charity?)
    Tollfree Number (866-551-6971 Dun and Bradstreet)
    Alabama Shakespeare (334-271-5300)
    Malden, Ma (781-322-1224, North Shore Marketing?)
    Charter Cable (Baltimore, MD)
    Hannah Home (local charity)
    Austin Radio research (513-531-3690)
    Blockbuster (800-451-3523)

    …..I do have Charter Cable, and a Blockbuster card, so I suppose those two can legally spam my phone. The others, no. How many cell minutes would all of that crap eat up?

  28. Brian Gee says:

    @Moonshine Mike: I received a couple of phone books a while back. I can absolutely guarantee you that 100% of the energy used to make those books and drive them to my house was absolutely wasted. Plus they have to be collected and recycled. All waste. And they’ll deliver another stack of garbage to me next year.

    Datacenters may use a lot of energy, but Google is probably working on being more efficient (to save money on their electric bill). Those servers also do a heck of a lot more than just give out phone numbers.

    Do phone companies have an opt-out for the books? I’ve reduced my junk-mail to just a trickle (maybe 2-3 items a week, instead of the half-dozen catalogs I used to get daily) by opting out.

    I’m moving in a few weeks, and I won’t be getting a land line so maybe it won’t be an issue.

  29. romulus says:

    Perhaps we just need to develop an online, opt-in cell-number phonebook.

    Note I say online. The only value a paper phonebook has had to me in the past few years was to find the electric company’s number when the power went out.

  30. Gev says:

    I don’t really care if there’s a phone book of cell numbers provided we’re given the option of having our number unlisted and as long as they’re not going to charge $4-5 a month for the “privilege” of having it unlisted like the landline companies do.

  31. PenguinBlue says:

    Phone books getting thinner, short children sit less comfortably at dinner.

  32. Lazlo Nibble says:

    “Why on earth does anyone need a phone book if they have an fast internet connection at home?” @jamesdenver

    Nothing beats the Yellow Pages for quickly finding the one pizza delivery joint in your area that offers canadian bacon as a topping instead of ham. They aren’t the same thing, dammit!

  33. Trai_Dep says:

    It’s sorta ironic. The telecom companies made it possible for telemarketers to harvest us like cattle, which drove us away from our phones, or at least wanted public numbers. Now that they’ve destroyed the commons, they’re whining that “a sense of community” (the directory dollars) is lost.

    Ha ha ha ha ha.

    You foisted telemarketers on us, you ruined our home time, you FORCED us to write a federal law prohibiting these jerks?

    I’m GLAD your directory business is in the toilet. Next time the telecoms invent some “revolution”, ask if it makes OUR lives better before pushing it out the door.

  34. silverlining says:

    I don’t think this is so much about privacy or sense of community. Honestly, I didn’t care when I had a public listing for a landline phone–it’s easy enough to screen calls, etc. With the landline, you’re charged a flat rate no matter how many folks call you, so you’re just out the inconvenience/annoyance of having someone call you.

    However, I WOULD mind if I started receiving calls on my cell phone, because I’m charged for every FRACTION of a minute (not even every minute!), just for answering the phone, regardless of whether I solicited the communication or not. Like most folks, I don’t like solicitation to begin with, but to have to *pay* by the minute for it…??? Talk about adding insult to injury!

    It seems this issue is better understood as a consumer issue, not a privacy issue, but that’s just me. Relatedly, I think that there was a fairly recent law (a couple of years ago or so) that was enacted allowing telemarketers to call cell phones. That should be repealed too, for exactly the same reason.

    Bottom line: consumers should never have to pay to receive an unsolicited marketing pitch.

  35. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    They do realize of course that many people change their cell phone numbers every one or two years, right? Meaning that those phone books will be out of date the minute they are published?

    I would really not be happy to have all sorts of random strangers call me on my cell phone just because the phone book lists some other person’s name with my cell phone number.

  36. “People would meet someone, want to know where they lived, and look up their name in the phone book.”

    Most people I meet I meet through groups I’m involved with (currently professional and charitable groups; I imagine PTAs and whatnot in the future) and those all come with PHONEBOOKS FOR THE ORGANIZATION. So I still get the purported joy of looking people up in the phone book — it’s just a little bitty phone book just of people I actually want to know. :P

    @PenguinBlue: “Phone books getting thinner, short children sit less comfortably at dinner.”

    And I might never have learned to drive without a nice fat phone book to sit on ….

  37. shdwsclan says:

    The only way it would actually be legal to list your cell phone number is if you get free incoming calls.

    But anyways, a cell phone is NOT a substitute for a ground line. If you think it is, then your are really stupid.

    The technology, as you know, works on various principles and theories, that if a said number increases beyond tolerance, the system will cease to work at all, and even crash for a few days.

    Same thing for all you with voip, you are also stupid if you think voip replaces a ground line.
    The IP part of voip works on similar principles as cellular technology.

    Unfortunately, cost for cost, and reliability, a ground line is still the best.

    Now if your actually using voip for international calls to your family and the unit is in your house, your stupid also. The subtitle underneath getting voip is that you can send the box to another country..any country and call them like its a local call…

    Im pretty sure you all can figure out the subitile behind getting the 4-room dish network installation….

  38. Karunamon says:

    I’ve said this before on other sites, and i’m going to say it again here:


    The only similarities between one store and the other are the items sold, and sometimes not even that.

    Each store is independently owned. That means that the work atmosphere, pay rate, etc will vary from place to place!

    Me? I started at the one in my town when I was 13. First job ever. The managers were nice enough, i liked the people I worked with.. And i’m still there. I’m now 20.

    Oh, and get this, they pay 7.25/hr to start. Which isn’t much, but considering minimum wage is 5.25, it’s something. In this town anyways, they’re probably the best paying entry-level place to work.

    Considering all the hateful comments on here, i’d guess i’m in the minority, but i’d say it’s a damn nice place to work. Rewarding? Right now, i’m making 11.25/hr, have 2 years of management and customer service experience.

    The ones that ruin mcdonalds are the uppity high-school kids who think that it’s all fun and games, then come in, see that there’s actual work to be done and people to please, then they piss everyone off (workers and customers) before not showing up for work one day.

    Anyways, it’s not for everyone. You have to be able to take a lot of sh*t, do it with a smile, and LIKE doing it. But any CS job is like that :/

  39. synergy says:

    @DeeJayQueue: No need to have a cellphone for that. My family did that all my life BEFORE the popular usage of cell phones. The only difference is paying the $1 or whatever to stay unlisted.

  40. synergy says:

    @rbb: Oh no! Spot on “The Jerk” comment! ^5