No one mourns the passing of fax machines, darkroom chemicals or butter churns.

So it is with phone books, the once indispensable way to reach your fellow humans.

Nobody wants the White Pages anymore. Even the nation’s largest publisher of telephone directories estimates that 95 percent of households no longer use them for anything.

Yet Minnesota still requires phone companies to deliver a printed copy of the residential listings to its customers every year. It’s an enormous waste of resources, since most of them go straight into the trash.

That could change as soon as this spring. The state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is set to change the rules to allow phone companies to offer online listings, and require customers who want a printed white pages to ask for it.

It’s not the end of the phone book era. But it’s close.

Not long ago, you could use the Minneapolis White Pages for a booster seat to get your toddler closer to the dinner table. It was heavy enough to drop on the clothes that were jammed in the laundry chute.

These days, you can roll up the Dex Pages Residential Listings for Minneapolis to swat flies, provided they aren’t too hardy.

People by the tens of thousands have switched to voice-over-Internet protocol phones, or given up land lines entirely for cellphones. Those numbers don’t show up in the White Pages. Meanwhile, online directories have proliferated, making the ancient ritual of flipping through page after page to find a number suddenly seem like an unnecessary hassle.

The Yellow Pages can still make money, but the White Pages are a loser. Back in 2012, Dex Media East, the Texas-based phone book publisher, asked the PUC for permission to stop giving White Pages to every customer. The commission said no, but then started its rule-making process to do so in 2013.

Last August, Dex Media asked the PUC to move forward on the rule change, so it didn’t have to distribute phone books later that year. It singled out the Minneapolis directory.

“If the rule amendments are not adopted by that time, the potential cost and environmental savings for that edition of the residential white pages — almost 270,000 books, 94 million pages, and 225,000 pounds — will be forever lost,” the company wrote.

That argument persuaded the commission in December to grant a variance for CenturyLink and Dex Media, its publishing partner, to hold off on printing and distributing directories in the metro.

On Jan. 16, Daniel Wolf, executive secretary of the PUC, issued a “statement of need and reasonableness” that proclaimed the new White Pages policy would be adopted without a public hearing unless 25 or more people raise objections by Feb. 19. So far, there is no evidence of a citizen uprising to save the White Pages.

So what do the last people listed in the last phone books think about this historic change? The second-to-last number in the Minneapolis white pages belongs to Jerry Zyvoloski of Brooklyn Center. “I can’t remember the last time I looked up someone in the phone book,” said Zyvoloski, a retired union carpenter.

At one time, back when Zyvoloski was the last one in the book, he had to unlist his number because of the number of prank calls.

No longer. The last listing honor goes to Peter Zywicki of Robbinsdale. The White Pages in his household gets at least one lookup annually. “I do, every year, check to see if we’re last,” said Zywicki’s girlfriend, Ginger Jackson.

Jackson was intrigued to hear that the phone books might be going away. She wanted to make sure she got the last one as a souvenir.

 

Contact James Eli Shiffer at james.shiffer@startribune.com or 612-673-4116. Read his blog at startribune.com/fulldisclosure.