Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bye Bye White Pages

No more white pages. In the past few months, state regulators in New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania have ended the requirement that telecommunications companies publish residential phone books. Many older Americans will be dismayed. A doctoral student who is writing her dissertation on phone books described it, according to the Associated Press, as “sort of heartbreaking.”

"Sort of" is an understatement. Just ask the baby-boom generation. Boomers are caught between two worlds in a new kind of generational sandwich. The bottom slice is their children, who access the world through the Internet. The top slice is their parents, who access the world through print—newspapers, magazines, letters, and phone books. It is heartbreaking to see the bewilderment of the older generation as familiar icons disappear, one after the other.

Right now—literally right now—it is all coming together (or falling apart, depending on your point of view). The transition from the old world of print to the new world of the Internet is almost complete. In 2010, 79 percent of American households used the Internet, up from fewer than half of households in 2000, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The massive brick and mortar businesses built on the profits generated from putting ink on paper are collapsing.

Boomers are stuck in the middle. Among people aged 65 or older, only 42 percent are online. The older generation is increasingly dependent on boomers—their children—to help them navigate a strange new world.

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