Saturday 03 Dec 2016

Keeping Yellow Paper
David Simmonds

I was not particularly surprised when I read a headline, in the print edition of my daily newspaper, which stated, “Yellow Pages looks to the next chapter.” I was so certain that the article was going to tell me the iconic directory was going to move to an all-digital offering that I almost didn’t read it. When I did read it, I discovered something a little more complex.

The Yellow Pages is not going out of the paper directory business, at least not yet. Instead, it is going to employ a new strategy, starting in three Ontario cities, Brampton, Oakville and Mississauga. Specific areas in these cities, which have shown heavy Internet usage, called “hyper localized markets,” a term used in the company’s press release, will not receive paper copies of the directory, at the door. Instead, the directories will be available at street boxes, grocery stores and drug stores or delivered on request.

I must say that I don’t envy the Yellow Pages its job. It would have been so much simpler if it had just made an announcement, within say a week following the Canada Post announcement of the cessation of home delivery, that the company was going digital, lock, stock and walking fingers. So firmly is the corporate identity associated with paper, the company can’t just ditch paper or it is bound to feel some resentment at the other end of the digital divide from both advertisers and consumers.

The way the company announced the change, those carefully identified areas in Brampton, Oakville and Mississauga have safety nets for what they are losing. On closer examination, it sounds as if Yellow Pages is telling these particular directory users, “Hey, you people are in the first wave! Digital only - how cool is that?” Soon, other districts, in other cities will be saying, “Hey, wait a minute: we’re just as hip as those people, if not more so. Give us digital-only Yellow Pages, please, so we can look up those sushi bars on our smartphones.”

I can see community campaigns mounted. “Join the 22nd Century: say no to paper.”

Soon, the paper pages distribution list will be places, such as Picton, that aren’t hip and can request digital-only until they are blue in the face, for all the good it will do. Those places, such as Wellington, that could be on the hip list, if they chose, but are quite comfortable in their own paper skin. Who knows, the County might see a tourism edge to market itself as “quaint” because it still receives the paper pages. Besides, some advertisers, like typewriter repair shops, will no doubt be grateful to know there is a bastion of demand for a directory still rooted in paper. I was surprised to see three of the four cover pages of my Yellow Pages taken by ads for a firm of personal injury lawyers, but that’s a story for another day.

Frankly, I find something quite charming in the paper pages that fools who rush in to the digital-only world are going to miss. I’m talking about the pleasure derivable from the endless flipping back and forth between subject headings before one light upon the appropriate category.

If, for example, I check “Crutches,” the referral is to “Pharmacies.”  Going from C to P I have taken brief stops at F, then P again; and then from M to F again. I have covered the whole director with the exception of A, B and T to Z. I can easily catch most of it on the rebound (“Toupees (see Wigs and Hairpieces - Retail”) and in any event, there is no category for Z (no “Ziggurats (see Temples - Construction)”). In the meantime, my search has triggered the thought that in addition to my crutch, I might need some manure, which I can now classify as a type of fertilizer.

For all I know, to have me make these endless cross-references may be a canny old marketing trick designed to get me to look through the whole directory. Although some people might advise me to get a life in lieu of amusing myself this way, I can’t see the harm in it.

Maybe there’s life still in the old paper pages world. I am perfectly happy with it. I already feel hyper localized enough, thank you very much.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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