Directory assistance

The Baltimore Sun

A number of tributes to the late William F. Buckley Jr. recalled his gibe that he'd rather be governed by the first several hundred people listed in the Boston phone directory than by the several hundred members of the faculty of Harvard. Mr. Buckley's quip got us thinking about that venerable American institution. Not Harvard - the phone book.

Communication is a high-tech endeavor. We iPhone, text message, Skype and IM one another. But somehow the bulky phone book, with its eye-straining type, has remained much the same over the decades, despite the many online options for looking up a number. It grew from a single page of 50 names distributed in New Haven, Conn., in 1878, and as the story goes, the book took on a distinctively different hue five years later when a printer ran out of white paper. (Its official classified twin - the Yellow Pages - didn't debut until 1886 in Chicago.) Year after year, however, the phone book lands with a thud on the doorstep. Year after year, we wonder: What to do with last year's book? There is a good alternative to dumping it in your closet - or the trash. Phone books can be recycled, and Baltimore and Baltimore County are reminding residents of just that. With "single stream" recycling, it is easier than ever for city residents to responsibly get rid of these paper weights.

Mr. Buckley is no longer with us, but the phone book still is. The man who longed "to stand athwart history, yelling stop" would no doubt approve.

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