It doesn't help that the phone book industry's history of recycling has been … well, nothing to call home about. New York Telephone, for instance, once worked with wastepaper merchants to recover about half of all directories but gave up in 1959, with the onset of throwaway consumerism. * After New York's attorney general inquired about recycling plans in 1971, New York Telephone responded that it was looking into the matter. * They must have looked very hard, since they didn't start again for another 19 years. Even today, phone books, with their bindings and low-grade paper, make a tough sell for recycling plants, and many areas lack substantive recycling options.
And from that desperation comes … inspiration.
The phone book's most fervent users these days are the cult of young YouTubers who, left with piles of directories that only their parents and professors could want, demonstrate the old parlor trick of ripping a phone book in half. (It's harder than tearing an apple but probably easier than rolling up frying pans.) A fat Yellow Book is also perfect for punking dorm mates—this video by Tufts students has achieved phone-book infamy—or just for pummeling them. But it's a throwaway comment in the Tufts prank that deals the most punishing blow of all: "They must not have gotten the memo about phone books not being useful anymore."
For printed phone books, it seems, the writing is already on the dorm-room wall.
* Correction, March 25, 2008: These sentences originally and incorrectly referred to New York Telephone as NYNEX in pre-1984 references. In that year, New York Telephone became a wholly owned subsidiary of NYNEX; in 1994 it simply became NYNEX; in 1997 it was bought by Bell Atlantic, which in turn became Verizon with the GTE acquisition of 2000. (Return to the first corrected sentence.)