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Phone books almost extinct

POSTED: December 1, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Some of the savviest advertisers know how to play on our emotions during the holidays.

For years, one of the coffee companies has shown the unexpected arrival of a son at Christmas. Of course, the first thing he does is brew a pot of coffee.

One of the grocery chains has a TV ad making you feel all warm and fuzzy about Thanksgiving.

One scene in the commercial was an eye-opener for me. It was a child sitting on what appeared to be a large city telephone book. It reminded me of my childhood. I have always suffered from a lack of height and can remember being boosted at the dining room table by an Atlanta phone book.

We also had the largest copy of a dictionary I’ve ever seen. It must have been 8 inches thick. It also served as a booster on a few occasions.

My need for a booster did not stop at childhood. When I anchored my first TV newscast, I was sitting on an Atlanta phone book.

All of this begs the question: What will we do in the future?

I work every day in Atlanta and I haven’t seen a phone book in our office in three years. I know they still print them, because there is an ad for the Yellow Pages on the side of a phone company van. But they, like so many printed pieces, are on the endangered species list.

The big Atlanta phone book had so many ancillary uses. I worked at a radio station once and they replaced some big transformers in the broadcast transmitter. The engineer put them on Atlanta phone books as insulation.

I’ve used them to prop up furniture, as a short step-stool and many other purposes. One day, they will go the way of the nickel Coke and we will have to figure out something else.

Part of the reason for their demise is the end of the home phone and the fact that cellphones have no listings in the directory.

Uncle George Blackwood worked at a place that printed the Atlanta phone books. He used to bring us one when they came off the press. They smelled all fresh with ink. I immediately looked up our phone number to make sure it was in there.

We visited him once at the printing plant. He put me in a box and let me ride a conveyor belt and onto the metal rollers that sent the phone books to a waiting truck.

I was out in that part of Atlanta recently and the old printing building is empty.

Then, there is that dictionary. You’ve got to wonder, how many households own a dictionary? If they have one, they sure as heck aren’t using them.

I love to look at the attempts at English that people put on social media sites such as Facebook. Most folks can’t decide between words like “to” and “too.” Some of them even confuse “two” in the mix.

Another favorite is the use of “capital” and “capitol.” The building with the gold dome is the capitol. It is in the capital city of Atlanta.

I realize the language is confusing, even to some who have spoken it all of their lives. That’s why we once had dictionaries. I still have a big fat one on my office shelf. It wouldn’t boost me very far, but I’m keeping it.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.


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