Editorial: Aren't we the lucky ones

LUCKY LAST: Timaru phonebook users have benefited from being last in the annual roll-out.
LUCKY LAST: Timaru phonebook users have benefited from being last in the annual roll-out.

The telephone book is one of those things we take for granted.

An institution in its own right almost. Like the Edmonds cookbook.

Every house gets a new one each year, where it sits cosily in a set spot somewhere, and woe betide anyone who doesn't put it back.

Over the years there have been changes to its format, each met with predictable uproar, and then we all settle down again until the next time.

Who would have believed, for instance, that the yellow pages were once printed the right way up?

Changes this year have been met with greater outrage than normal.

In a bid to cut down fewer trees, and no doubt save some money, phone books were shrunk 10 per cent in size, thinner paper was used and smaller type printed (duh).

To counter the predictable complaints that people couldn't read it, owner of the books for the last five years Hong Kong/Canadian company Yellow offered magnifying glasses to those who asked.

But fortunately the Timaru/Oamaru book is at the end of the print run, and Yellow has listened to the complaints elsewhere and made changes. The book is still slightly smaller, but the type size remains the same.

It actually feels pretty good. And is no harder to read. So good on Yellow. Trial and error has worked.

A question now is how long phone books will remain relevant?

And the answer is . . . for quite some time.

Younger people (anyone not requiring cheap reading glasses) will disagree of course, but might be surprised that more people use phone books each week (1.66 million) than online services (620,000).

But then there are all those with cellphones who hardly use either, building instead their own in-phone directories by feeding off each other.

There's no doubt the phone book is becoming less relevant, mainly due to the non-listing of most private cellphone numbers and the online directory.

But like stamps it will hang in there.

Not only do people have to stop using it, but Yellow is bound by regulation to keep providing it until legislators deem otherwise.

Those wheels can turn slowly.

And despite the wonders of computers, I'd still challenge that looking up a phone number in the book is quicker than doing it online.

If you don't count the time it takes to find your glasses.

The Timaru Herald