Phone directories now almost as svelte as our mobiles
Soon only businesses and public services will have fixed lines. And not one of us will be able to phone our mother if we lose our mobile
THE PHONE book arrived this week, and what a shadow of its former stately, plump self it proved to be.
It was not all that long ago that the annual ritual of bringing in the new phone book and throwing out the old was triggered when the latest Dublin directory walloped against the front door, going on three inches thick and packed densely with phone numbers.
Landline numbers, that is – though back then, nobody referred to them as such. Even as mobile phones began to take off, people didn’t call them “landline” numbers. You had your phone number. And then perhaps, you also had a mobile number.
Once a year, when the new directories arrived, you carried in that fat directory, and the equally fat Golden Pages, and then tried to figure out how you would get rid of the old ones. In the days before the collection of recyclables, people generally heaved both old directories into the trash, adding considerable weight for the poor bin men.
Those heavy directories were a pain. They hung from a cord or a chain from payphones and were always being vandalised. When I was a student queuing up to use the row of payphones in the arts building at Trinity (a scenario that now seems positively Jurassic), it always seemed that someone had torn out the one page with the number that you needed.
The ultimate in misery for me was trying to place a reverse-charge call back to my parents in the States. You had to call a special international operator, who would, at some undetermined point in the future, maybe ring you back with a parent on the other end of the line. Whether they did or not was utterly arbitrary. If you were calling from a public payphone, you risked a riot from others queuing as you sat inside the booth looking as if you were randomly cogitating rather than using the phone.
It wasn’t much better using those shared payphones in the halls of old Dublin houses divided into bedsits. You might easily sit on a step for an hour in a freezing cold Victorian hall, reading a textbook and waiting fruitlessly for the elusive international operator to dial back. Gone are those days, and good riddance to them.