The White Pages, Where Anyone Could Be Someone: NPR

Residential white pages may soon be a thing of the past. Regulators have long demanded that telephone companies publish and distribute directories to their customers every year, but AT&T and Verizon have obtained permission to stop the practice in a growing list of states.

Like rotary telephones and telephone booths, the White Pages are disappearing. Telephone companies have stopped distributing them in some states, claiming the lists are all on the Internet.

But a limited number of directories will still be available to anyone who requests them. And the phone book has its fans.

Take, for example, the character of Steve Martin in the 1979 film the jerk. For him, appearing in the blank pages promised an ascent to fortune and glory.


In a famous scene, Martin’s character interrupts his work at a gas station to shout excitedly: “The new phone book is here!” The new phone book is here!

His boss at the gas station, played by Jackie Mason, is dubious. “I wish I could be so excited for nothing,” he says.

” Nothing ?! Are you kidding? Martin yells as he flips through the ad pages. “Page 73. Johnson, Navin R. I’m Someone Now!”

Roy Peter Clark is already a well-known “someone” – he has spent years working as an author and journalist. Yet, he says, there is something special about being seen in the White Pages.

“I don’t do that anymore,” he said, “but when the new phone book came out, especially when I was new to a community, you wanted to check your own name – first to see if it was correct, but also as a kind of test of your belonging to this new community. “

But soon, the only community he’ll be a part of is the global community of millions of people listed in phone books on the Internet. This is because telephone companies like AT&T and Verizon have decided in several states to stop printing hard copies of home phone books for most of their customers.

“Ultimately, there are a lot more sources for finding a phone number than the traditional paper directory,” Verizon spokesman John Bonomo said.

“Overall, for the majority of the population, if not in use, it’s probably safe not to produce them,” he says, “and not deliver them to those people who, frankly , throw them away or, you know, they just go to the back of a cupboard, and they just go to waste there. “

To be clear, the yellow pages and business listings in the white pages get nowhere. But unless you specifically request a hard copy of residential listings, now you’ll need to call directory assistance or search the internet for what you need, if you haven’t already. It is a decision that environmentalists believe is long overdue. But that doesn’t bode well for the Navin Johnsons of the world.

After all, as Steve Martin’s character puts it, “Millions of people look at this book every day. It’s the kind of spontaneous advertising – your name in print – that makes people!

It would be nice to ask what Navin Johnson thinks about the impending change. But surely there is no way to do it; Navin R. Johnson doesn’t really exist.

It does not exist, that is to say – except in some telephone directories. For example, it is listed in the phone book for Tampa, Florida.

A call to the number got a quick response.

When asked if he was Mr Johnson, a man replied: “Ah … no. Actually, there is no Navin Johnson.”

Turns out his real name is Shawn Panessa.

“When I set up the phone, I didn’t want my name registered in the white pages,” says Panessa. “And not to be listed costs money. But to be listed as a fictitious name is free. In fact, my friend’s father originally came up with the idea of ​​registering as Navin Johnson. And I think his phone is too.

When asked how he thought Navin Johnson would feel about leaving the White Pages, Panessa replied, “I guess he would be really sorry. Very sad.”

But as for Panessa himself, he says what a lot of people say – that phone books are a thing that has had its day. As he says, “It’s a nice doorstop, but I only have a limited number of doors.”

Calvin W. Soper

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