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Telephone directories die a silent death

Technology is claiming yet another relic. Remember those big fat books that made us proudly proclaim in the 1970s and 1980s that we owned a telephone? Alas, with the advent of the Internet and smartphones that can store hundreds of numbers, the telephone directory got lost in the clutter of most households and offices to the extent that the majority of the current generation is unaware that such a publication once existed.

Old-timers will remember that the telephone directory often doubled up as a pillow whenever there was an unexpected guest at home or that it may have been used to kill cockroaches. Others will recollect how frantically they had searched for the address of their heart-throb’s house through the name of the girl’s father in the directory. Life has come a long way in the last two decades and with handheld devices and internet, the thick volumes have gone into oblivion - indeed, become redundant. The telephone directory has died a natural death, silently. Now, queries for numbers get channelised through services like Justdial, which addressed 364 million search requests across various platforms in 2012-2013. The voice component comprised 40 per cent, whereas the other 60 per cent came in via the internet and mobile Internet sources.

‘Today, the Justdial is shifting gear towards more sophisticated technology, as the voice component is becoming less dominant by the day, with just 34 per cent of search queries coming via the medium, whereas Internet and mobile internet now accounts for 66 per cent of the overall traffic,’ Justdial chief financial officer Ramkumar Krishnamachari said. Thus, those long meandering queues in front of telephone exchanges when the voluminous telephone directories were issued have vanished. Many people feel that search engines like Google have killed the telephone directory, once a bible for many. The last time Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd-Delhi published a directory was in 2000 in two volumes. ‘A policy decision was taken in the late 1990s to stop printing directories as they had become too voluminous and were becoming too costly to print, considering they had to be distributed free to all ‘subscribers,’ an official of the Department of Telecom said. ‘The printing stopped at various times in various cities due to commitments to ‘advertisers,’ the official added.
A retired banker in his late 1970s, R R Pandya of suburban Vile Parle has carefully preserved the final three bulky volumes published by MTNL-Mumbai. Though the directory - running into over 4,000 pages – is dated 1999, it reached subscribers only by mid-2000. ‘At times, I still go through this MTNL directory, but it’s practically useless as more than 75 per cent of the numbers have changed, many people have surrendered their MNTL lines, and the new numbers have not been listed,’ Pandya told IANS. According to a top MTNL Mumbai official, the first Bombay (as Mumbai was then called) Telephones Directory was published way back in 1933, during the British era. Since then, the directories were published annually and virtually without a break till the last one in 1999, the official said.IANS

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