How the Phone Book Evolved to a Digital Cell Phone Directory

Is it believable that the phone book, a useful household item that has been around for almost 140 years is near extinction?

Ask almost anyone under the age of forty, and they will tell you that they never use one. To a significant portion of the population, the phone books is an inconvenient product that goes right through the front door and straight to the garbage.

The phone book is the technology’s latest victim.

evolution of the cell phone directory

The number one reason the phone book doesn't work for most people is the birth of the cell phone.

Every year, more people cut over from land line to cell phone, making the phone book more obsolete and digital directories more relevant.

Additionally, the internet has become the new way for businesses to advertise and sell their products as well as to people search. With the constant innovation of technology, paper phonebooks may seem boring and an item from the past. However, that is not an accurate reflection of the phonebook.

On the contrary, there is an interesting history behind the paper phonebook as well as valuable reason to why it is still created, year after year.

And it all started in the year of 1876. On March 10th of that year, the telephone was patented by Alexander Graham Bell. Soon after the telephone was patented, naturally the first phonebook was created.

It wasn’t as professional looking like the phone books we receive on our doorstep now, but it was far more important.

According to, in 1878 the first phone book was published which included only fifty listings and actually had no numbers. Not the most efficient piece of cardboard, but a good start.

After a few decades, the telephone became more popular and far more accessible.

The popularity and accessibility of the phonebook ascended along with it.

In 1886, the first official Yellow Pages were created in Wyoming, and by 1921, Yellow Pages had spread rapidly to areas such as New York and Wisconsin.

The telephone and the phonebook became like two peas in a pod, and you couldn’t have one without the other.

Flash forward to the 1980’s. The paper phonebook and telephone were still going strong. According to, on average American used the phone book 1.86 times per week, and over 50% of the American population used the telephone directory EVERY DAY.

But what is love without rivalry?

The phonebook and the telephone were content with each other until the rise of the internet. In 1996, the United States started seeing some of their first online telephone directories ( and

The invention of the internet changed the way not only how people looked at phones but also how they gathered their information.

The telephone then changed itself and turned to the phonebook’s worst enemy, the internet. And then things moved very fast for those two.

The use of paper phonebooks is decreasing while usage of internet directories is increasing.

Soon, the phonebook became a nuisance that arrived on people’s doorsteps year after year. Now more than ever people are concerned with the environmental impact that printed phonebooks have on the Earth.

Imagine then how often phonebooks are thrown in the trash and wasted! According to, every year there are 650,000 tons of phone books that are handed out in the United States. On Average, Americans only recycle about 18% of recyclable material. If you do the math only 117,000 of those tons are recycled each year.

But wait! Did you know that phone books are made of paper, and that paper is recyclable?

Recycling is imperative to keep our earth clean. No one in my household even bothers to do much more with a phonebook besides roll their eyes at it when we see it on our doorstep.

However, we certainly make sure that we recycle every single phonebook that we roll our eyes at.

That way, we know our phonebook won’t feel as if its life was wasted, and that we are also doing something good for the Earth.

Another way to not waste the paper used to produce phonebooks is to reuse them. (Remember the term Reduce, Reuse and Recycle?) Exercise your creative abilities! This person, for example, uses their old phone books to make phone book dresses.

Or, if you want to be wasteful, you can set a Guinness World Record if you can beat this man's record set in 2010 of 33 phone books in two minutes.

I have contemplated using our phonebook as a booster seat for my toddler, but I’d rather use his plastic booster seat which is a lot safer and was also given to me for free.

The Paper Phone Book Is Useless

Why are phone books still being produced when they are as useful as a telephone booth?

Not surprisingly, self-interest is what fuels the creation of phonebooks year after year. Old habits die hard, and individuals that used the phone book before the creation of online directories may not want to make the switch. That simple paper phonebook on the doorstep may be comforting and nostalgic to some.

Additionally, even in the age of technology, there are still people who may not be tech-savvy, and that still have to rely on the ancient telephones books that get delivered through their door. Or perhaps they just need paper for their bonfires.

Here’s the 411. There is no need for paper phonebooks, and they will be extinct soon.

There are many, many ways to find what you’re looking for via the internet and the list of internet resources continues to grow. For example, people search websites have been around for over a decade now, and their databases continue to grow. In January 2003, was founded, and in 2006, and National Cellular followed suit.

Today, these digital cell phone directory companies are known for helping people reconnect with one another. Within moments, such information such as a person’s address, landline and cell phone number owner information can be found.

Additionally, if you still like to use the Yellow Pages they are now digital as well as ever-changing and ever-expanding. In 2013, rebranded itself to simply

Its name change is a representation of the revolution and expansion that is constant in the world of the internet.

It is quite incredible that we have gone from a phone book with no numbers to be able to access anyone’s information such as their phone number, age, address, and who they know in a matter of moments.

There are unlimited resources to use to find someone, from people, search websites such as National Cellular Directory to social networking sites such as Facebook.

You might even get lucky by a simple Google search.

Whatever the means, there are plenty of options to find a business or person you need via online, far more than what you get in a phone book.

According to, although the printed Yellow Pages is projected to receive 1.3% of the estimated $148.8 billion spent on advertising in 2017, other types of long-established advertising like direct mail will be receiving a higher percentage (Direct advertising is projected at 24.9%).

Social Media Is EVERYTHING

Not only do the Yellow Pages still have to compete with the more traditional forms of advertising, but they also have to compete with digital age where there is an unlimited amount of resources, some free.

In May of 2017, it was reported that 350 million people are addicted to their Facebook, there are 4.5 billion likes on Facebook everyday, and the average time per day that someone spends on Facebook is 40 minutes.

More and more people are turning to social media and other forms of digital advertising because of its popularity. Eventually, the paper phonebook will be useless, and everything will be online.

The video may have killed the radio star, but the internet and cell phone will take the phone book as its victim.

R.I.P PhoneBook 1878-?