Boomers Watch Their Print Phone Books Disappear

The end of printed phone books has been predicted since the dawn of the internet in the 1980s. Nonetheless, a majority of homes from coast to coast continued to receive printed phone directories up until recent years. Though many areas of the country eliminated the print version in the early 2010s, other areas have continued the practice, including Mister Boomer’s area … until now.

Boomers recall seeing and using phone books their entire lives. The first printed phone directory appeared in New Haven, Connecticut in February of 1878, generations before Baby Boomers. It was a single page that listed all the names (but not numbers) of the people in town who had a telephone. George Coy was awarded the Bell Telephone franchise in that city, and came up with the directory idea along with inventing a switchboard with which to connect one person to another. Prior to Coy’s switchboard invention, telephones were on direct lines, causing a cacophony of connections and eavesdroppers on the line at any given time.

By 1878, people saw the logic of separating residential listings from business listings, and the Yellow Pages was born. The color of the paper was different, but also, unlike residential listings, which were alphabetically ordered (and dubbed the White Pages), business listings in the Yellow Pages appeared in categories of business first. Residential listings would remain in the White Pages. At the dawn of the Baby Boom, Bell Telephone continued to hold the monopoly on phone service in the country, and the annual delivery of printed phone directories was commonplace.

Mister Boomer has chronicled his own family’s phone trajectory from a party line to a private number, and on eventually from dial phone to push button. Yet, like most families, the phone books were a constant in his household. They were kept in a lower cabinet in the kitchen, closest to the phone on the wall.

Many boomers may recall literally being raised by a phone book, used as a booster cushion on a dining room chair, long before they could read. The sheer size of the books in metropolitan areas suggested uses other than phone number look-ups, like a quick foot stool in a pinch, or booster seat for the youngest family member to reach the dining room table.

As boomers became teenagers, the anecdotal info Mister Boomer has accumulated says that most families discouraged the use of an operator in favor of using the phone books to look up numbers. This may coincide with some areas beginning to charge a fee for directory assistance in the 1970s, and on to the breakup of the Bell Telephone monopoly in 1982.

Coupled with the news of discontinued printed phone books is info that personal directory assistance has been or is also being eliminated by many companies. The first online directory appeared in 1996. Instant look-ups online have completely replaced the need for human assistance. The fact that younger people prefer not to even make phone calls is perhaps a topic for another day.

What memories of printed phone books come to mind for you, boomers?

Will Boomers Retire Gracefully?

Mister Boomer has retired from his day gig. Granted, it’s not as mind-blowing a statement as, say, “Elvis has left the building,” but it does bear some exploration. The fact is, as a mid-era boomer, Mister B is among the growing number of Baby Boomer retirees. According to Pew Research, approximately 40 percent of the estimated 73 million boomers were retired as of September 2020.

The oldest of the Baby Boomers reached the retirement age of 65 way back in 2011. Since then approximately 2 million boomers a year have retired. By 2030, all Baby Boomers will have reached the age 65 threshold. However, the number of boomers retiring each year appears to be accelerating for various reasons, including the COVID 19 pandemic that struck the Boomer-American job market hard in 2020. As might be expected, those boomers employed on the lower end of the economic ladder were the most affected by unemployment and illness — both of which are contributing factors to increasing retirement rates in recent years.

Boomers may recall that the promise of retirement for their parents would, more often than not, come with a pension from their employer. That, coupled with Social Security and personal savings, allowed many of the Greatest Generation to enjoy a retirement unheard of in the decades prior. Today, however, Forbes reports 45 percent of retiring boomers have little to no savings. The government records nearly half of married couples on Social Security rely on it for 71 percent of their income. And U.S. News & World Report states that only about a quarter of today’s employers provide a pension.

This is hardly the New World Order many boomers envisioned in their days of protest, and after years of hard labor working for the man.

The news isn’t all bad, though. Boomers have changed the entire notion of what retirement should be, starting with many boomers working past the age of 65. Mister Boomer was among them, until recently. Some embark on a second working career after retirement, sometimes out of economic necessity, others out of personal choice. Medical advances mean boomers may live longer; government actuarial tables suggest a boomer who makes it to age 78 will, in all likelihood, still be around at age 88 (with slight differences between men and women, but the basic data supports the statement). Boomers are perhaps more mobile than any generation that preceded it, choosing where to live and moving at will. Transit options and senior housing opportunities (where available and affordable) hold the promise of a more fulfilling retirement experience for some boomers.

Facts and figures aside, the mental transition boomers need to make from working life to retiree is dauntingly real, as Mister B can now attest. The Hope I die before get old generation has lived well beyond their youthful prognostication. It’s funny that in times like these, Bob Dylan keeps coming back to mind, yet truer words would never be sung; your old world is rapidly aging … for the times they are a-changing’. Will they be filled with Good Vibrations or bring on a 19th Nervous Breakdown? Mister B wishes you the former.

Are you retired, boomers? How does your retirement compare to that of your parents?