Monthly Archives: July 2007

It is not every day that you have an epiphany…

It is not every day that you have an epiphany… even if it is kind of just a small one, the type you can have every day and carry around in your pocket.
There was a phone book sitting on my doorstep this morning as I left my apartment.
At least, I assume it was a phone book.  It was a plastic bag with the familiar AT&T logo on it, and it was definitely filled with something about the size of a phone book.  When I moved it little bit more out of the way with my toe as I exited my dwelling, it felt like a phone book, weighed as much as one.  It even moved like one—slowly, they way you would expect a dense, weighty book crammed into a plastic bag.  When it settled after I had moved it out of the way so I could leave, it even sounded like what I thought one would sound like:  A thump of a noise, felt as much as heard as it shifted off my doorstep and onto my doormat.
It wasn’t that I was so much late for work—it was only 10:45AM or so (I do odd things, so must work odder hours in order to Get Things Done)—but it was in the way, and I needed to get to work then (or now, as I thought it was when this occurred). 
Anyhow, I got home around 11:00PM or so after an interesting and exciting but yet otherwise unremarkable day, and on my way into the apartment, lifted the phone book off the doormat and placed it down as quickly as I could inside, which, in this case, meant next to a floor lamp next to the door. 
Almost on top of another bag:  One of the same size, with the same (or at least, very similar) AT&T phone company logo on it.  The colors were right on, but I didn’t check to see if the typfaces or messages on either bags were different from each other.  And didn’t really stare at the logo at all.
I ended up angling the bags so the first one lay half-atop the other, like big, phone book-in-a-bag-shaped dominoes.  That was because that suited my particular need for symmetry.  I wanted them to look like that, otherwise it would just look like a stack of probably-phone books (in bags).
It wasn’t until I walked into my kitchen area (it is only a few steps away) that I realized what I had done—not just what I had done, but, how, at the moment, everything had changed, and it just kind of clicked at that moment.
Growing up, through my life, the Phone Book was a wonderful thing.  Not just a wonderful thing, but a marvelous thing.  Through the Phone Book, you could access any sort of information at all.  You could call Toys"Я"Us and find out what time they were open ’til.  Or a hobby shop.  That is a very important thing to know when you have a birthday.  Or it is the holiday season (which some people vulgarly refer to by holiday name).  Not only could you call any store and find out their hours, you could get driving directions, too.  It was not just limited to calling stores:  Through the Phone Book, you could call libraries and find out what hours they are open if they had certain books in stock, even ask the Librarian a Reference Question.  Or Reference Questions.  There were also state and national maps, information on what to do in case of an emergency (earthquake, fire, invasion) and the phone numbers for all of the important government agencies, like City Hall, the Fire Department and the Secret Service, plus all the unimporant ones, as well.
As I grew up, the Phone Book remained a valuable tool:  Through it, I could obtain everything I needed, be it hardware, software or office supplies.  Even though I got business cards from the companies I dealt with (which I kept in little boxes like little miniature filing cabinet drawers, organized by people’s names, companies and phone numbers), there was always the Phone Book to fall back upon.  Oh, the business cards were useful, too, since we didn’t have every phone book, especially out-of-state ones.
The Phone Book was just a way to get access to any sort of information, anytime, and then get more information if it was during business hours.
At some point, this must have changed.  I don’t remember when.  The mid-to-late 1990s, perhaps?
I remember, back at home—my home, not the place I happen to live right now—I have my telephone with integral answering machine sitting on top of a phone book to make it easier to reach.  That particular phone book is probably approaching ten years old, now.
But, flash back to my apartment, the current place that I live, with its floor lamp by the door and its Phone Books sitting like knocked-over dominoes.  At least I assume they are Phone Books.  I didn’t really look inside the bag at this new one, and if I did for the last year’s, than I have long forgotten what was inside of it. 
I guess that kind of makes them Schrödinger’s Phone Books, doesn’t it?  I won’t really know whether or not they are phone books (let alone Phone Books) unless I look inside, but, frankly, I can’t see any reason to.
With the Internet, with search engines like Google and Yahoo! and even Microsoft Live, not to mention things like the Verizon Super Pages and AT&T AnyWho, which really are Internet-enabled Phone Books (or Phone Book-enabled inter-networks, I forget which), there does not seem to be that same pressing need to have a Phone Book, anymore.  To see what’s new and what’s gone, who’s moved and who has new hours and new phone numbers.  Or to pore over this year’s (or next year’s) new area code charts.
I mean, I supopse they are useful if the power is out or you need to look up some emergency information in case of an earthquake, fire or an invasion, but, well, you don’t necessarily do those things that often.  And in the case of a power outage, well, these days I have VoIP service from my cable provider as part of their "triple play" package, and I’m not sure how long their CO (or its equivalent) will stay up.  My cable modem has its ATA built-in, and both it and my residential gateway are on their own, dedicated UPS (~600W/1000VA) so I’m not too worried about them, but cable is a good eight or nine decades younger than telco, so I don’t have high hopes for its reliability.  Then again, you never know.  Anyways, I digress…  the point of this is not to talk about my phone sevice.
So, now I have two Schrödinger’s Phone Books, not just one, and the point of that is that what once had a great deal of relevancy and importancy in my life no longer does, and that has so many applications on so many different levels it is just frightening:  I can’t imagine I’m the only person who felt that way about the Phone Book, although I don’t know if there others who saw it the way I did.  What happens to the phone book industry and the people in it, and does anyone care?  On a more macro scale, this is just one of a nearly infinite numbers of skirmishes between the old new-old Bell System and the new Internet companies, as exemplified by Google.  Fundamentally, circuit-switched network economies don’t scale to packet-switched ones [network economies], and while, right now, it seems the telcos have the upper hand, I do not expect it to stay that way forever.

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