Phone book litmus test?

Whenever I need an address or phone number, I turn to the Web. I realized the other day that I probably haven’t used a telephone directory printed on paper in at least three or four years.

My parents and grandparents, in contrast, always turn to the phone book. While I don’t even think of pulling out the white or yellow pages in our cabinet, the phone book is always the very first place they go. The same is true of paper atlases. I have one in my car for the state of Iowa, but it gets used one-hundredth as often as Google Maps and/or my new GPS unit.

Is this the ultimate litmus test of whether you’re a ‘digital native’ or not? Regardless of your age or setting, where do you turn first when you need an address, phone number, or directions?

12 Responses to “Phone book litmus test?”

  1. I’ve got a continuum as opposed to a litmus, that helps me understand this.

    One left side, The Simpsons. In the middle, South Park. On the right side, Family Guy.

    The further to the left, the more of a immigrant the person is.

  2. That’s a pretty good test, Scott. For some reason, we do keep our phone books in a cabinet in the kitchen, although I don’t remember the last time we opened them. We recycle our unused books every year when the new ones come. I should probably figure out how to get on the “No, thanks!” list so we can do our part to save a tree.

    I’ve gotten used to SMS-ing GOOGL for a number or address when out and about, or using 800-GOOG-411 if I am driving and can’t take the time to text.

  3. I don’t know where (or if) in my house the phone book is hiding. I’m a fan of for my “yellow pages” mostly because I can set it to my zip code. I do text Google a lot for the weather or sports scores. I’ve been using my iPod when I go to football games to check the scores of other games and fantasy football (for being the newest and most “high tech” football stadium, University of Phoenix stadium has really slow free Wifi, but the ipod touch is pretty neat). I use to use my cell phone quite a bit to get online, but now with the wifi enabled iPod I don’t need to use the cell minutes often.

  4. A simple litmus test for digital native. Just because you turn there first doesn’t mean you are effective at retrieving the desired information. What do we call “effective digital natives”? Those that have learned how to use the tools effectively? Even when using the old tools you had to know the difference between the white and yellow pages, you needed to understand cross-referencing. Is there a distinction between those that turn to technology and those that can manipulate the tool to their advantage?

  5. One strength of the web is that it’s an interactive medium. Instead of having a search box for yellow pages and a search box for white pages, we can have one box that can logically decide what you mean. (Think of all the things that Google can identify when you try to “search” for them: maps, math problems, conversions between measurements, addresses, ISBN numbers, movie titles, and much more.) Thinking of the web in terms of limitations imposed on print is much more Simpsons than Family Guy.

  6. Yes, Google is pretty amazing. But can you put it under a young family member when you run out of high chairs at the extended family Christmas dinner?

  7. Several years ago, at our central office, they were passing out yellow books. No one could understand why I didn’t want one.

    Someone put it in my office even after I refused it twice. It was good for starting a fire at home in January.

    As of the past month, I’ve become enamored with GOOG-411 and to do tasks by phone. I was able to call a restaurant hands-free in my car with GOOG-411. I felt totally geeked-out, doing it.

    Despite what term we give ourselves for doing things the digital way, I think we beg to ask the question is the “digital way” better? I think it is–but too often I hear folks put down the productivity gains awarded by tech as just that… just productivity.

    In our current economy (read the history of Facebook, for one), being first to something can mean a huge difference. I hope we’re all teaching these skills to students… But I know many natives that wouldn’t have a clue on how to make phone calls via GOOG-411, or find all the pizza parlors in their zip code. But these are nevertheless powerful skills in a native’s society.

  8. Good point John.

    Can you imagine being in business and the only place you were putting your message was the yellow book? If you are not online, you are missing customers! You needed to be there yesterday.

    I sure hope that all of the businesses are on an equal footing in cyberspace. Could you imagine what it would be like if your business didn’t show up in a search?

  9. Okay, I think part of this depends on whether or not you have teenagers. It takes me less time to look something up in the phonebook than to wait for my teenagers to finish up so I can use the computer. Also, if you are from a small town, you might not find what you are looking for on the web. I needed a furniture upholstery place. I used the yellow pages. I don’t think any of them could be found on the web.

  10. I often find it funny when, in my classroom with 17 computers, students ask if I have a phone book.

    My students are definitely digital natives, and they often don’t go for the digital resources first.

  11. I couldn’t find any newspaper to make a fire the other day, so I burned the yellow pages. Actually worked better than newspaper.

  12. Eduwonkette made me do it. You’ve been tagged.

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