The End of Directory assistance
February 27, 2022
Pick up your cell phone and dial 411, or an area code followed by 555-1212.. Of course if you’re under 50, this will be the first time you’ve ever done it and the results won’t surprise you.
But for persons of my vintage it may come as something of a shock to discover that AT&T no longer offers directory assistance on cell phones. Given the massive shrinkage of listed phone numbers this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise, but it does anyway, and it makes me feel very old.
Since newspapers are mostly read by old people, I am surprised a big deal was not made of the end of the service late last year. But of course while we make up most of the readership, we don’t make up most of the staff, and they probably didn’t notice.
I remember being shocked back in the 60s when I discovered that they didn’t print telephone books in the old Soviet Union. The rationale was that if people could find each other they could organize a revolution. Please note that our ability to find each other prior to the invention of the cell phone did not cause a revolution in this country; quite the contrary, all the revolutions have come since.
I can still remember the article which listed a number of ways that a modern economy was difficult to run if you couldn’t find people’s telephone numbers. I wonder how many of those are true now.
(I don’t think this is the article I remember, although time may have wreaked havoc with my memory. I was working at the Oregon Journal that summer, where I was paid to read both the Oregonian—which subscribed to the New York Times news service—and the Journal front to back every day as part of my job.)
I am too lazy to find out if the phone company still prints reverse directories: a directory of phone numbers listed by street address. Such directories used to be available to newspapers, police and fire departments and could sometimes be found in libraries. I remember working on several crime stories where it was useful to be able to reach the next-door neighbors of a crime, either of recent vintage, or still ongoing. Of course such a directory would be useless now.