An incredible 615 million phone books were printed last year, most of which were used to replace missing legs on sofas or were ripped apart in Youtube videos.
About another million tons of these useless blocks will be shipped out to households and offices next year, where an increasing number will make a U Turn at the front porch and head to the landfill without ever being opened. William Rathke, an anthropologist who studies garbage, says you can "dig a trench through a landfill and you will see layers of phone books like geographical strata or layers of cake." Rathke, who despite digging through trash for a living has his Ph.D. from Harvard, claims phone books account for about 10-30% of the trash at your local dump.
In an era when you can fit many gigabytes onto a device small enough to be swallowed by a cat and even your local bait shop has a website, phone companies still want us to find phone numbers the same way we did 100 years ago: by dragging out a bulky, ten-pound list printed on dead trees.
Why are they still around?
Since you've probably never opened one, you may not realize that phone books are chock full of so many ads that they generated $13.9 billion last year. That sort of makes sense when you realize these ads are being force fed to every single household in America, like giant bricks of spam just appearing on your porch once a year. The only difference is you can click out of a pop up ad. Phone books weigh 10 lbs and have to be disposed of in special ways, to avoid becoming even more than 30% of your local landfill. Yes, it would appear that Satan works in advertising, and he's damn good at what he does.
But even though it reaches twice as many homes as the Super Bowl, does it get past the doorstep of those homes anymore? Are there really $13.9 billion worth of people using them? Well yes, if you believe the phone companies, and the people they've paid to conduct surveys. And in an industry with no sales figures (because nobody asked for the damn things in the first place) how else are you going to track who actually uses them?
Well there is one way. You could go hunting around in landfills to see if the phone books were thrown away all at once right when everyone got them, creating entire layers of phone book in the earth. You know, like a cake? But who's bat shit crazy enough to do something like that?
No sooner than we celebrate the death of the CD, its killer may be the next one in the grave. We're talking about the iPod (and its countless imitators) which is seeing falling sales for the first time in its short life.
But don't feel sorry for Apple, the reason for the MP3 player slide is that cell phones (including their own iPhone) make perfectly good MP3 players. Selling someone an iPod now is like selling a feces gun to a monkey; he doesn't need it.
Why are they still around?
MP3 players hang around for the same reason digital cameras and GPS navigators hang around; all those things are available on phones, but the standalone devices still do it a little better.
For instance, there are iPods that can hold up to 40,000 songs now (which we believe is more songs than actually exist) and the iPhone "only" has room for about 3,500. But since the average user hasn't stolen anywhere near that many songs anyway, fewer and fewer are seeing the point of carrying around a separate device.