Economic Anthropology

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 26, 2009

“Let your fingers do the walking” and become an “economic anthropologist” for a minute.

What would the different categories of businesses and the proportionate amount of space that they occupied in the yellow pages say about our current state of affairs? How would today’s edition with ten pages of Computer listings, eight for Copiers, four for Facsimile machines, and but one single line for Diaper Service compare with years gone by?

Before you conclude that a tour through the nearly one thousand yellow pages was an easy undertaking in pop-commercial history, let me assure you that it takes a strong stomach and youthful enthusiasm. After all, the first classification is “Abdominal Supports” and the last is “Youth Organizations.”

It didn’t take long to grasp the importance of the letter A. While but one of twenty six letters in the alphabet, a mere 4%, the A’s occupy nearly 15% of the yellow pages. The A’s big hitters are the Attorneys and Automobiles, together they comprise more than 10% of the whole book. That maybe an understatement of their impact on modern life.

The Attorneys, forty-three pages with 21 full half page ads, are clearly the dominant profession. Accountants occupy a very modest four pages. Physicians have seventeen pages, but Chiropractic is close with sixteen pages, including 14 half page ads. Dentists occupied eighteen pages with no large ads. Not surprising when you stop to think that most of us have about thirty two teeth and only one back, even though its frequently a bad one.

The future for the legal profession maybe cloudy, but with each new class of law school graduates, I can forecast a rosy future for yellow page ad sales. Speaking of another of the older “professions”, there were seven pages for Massage, with four full half page ads.

An economic anthropologist would find significant trends in transportation. The Automobile with fifty three pages is the single largest category in the entire book. Aviation captured second place in transportation with six pages. Boats followed with three, trailed by Buses with two and the engines that built the west, Trains, weren’t mentioned. How times have changed.

Shoe leather and pedal power, Bicycles, remain reliable means of transportation with four pages each. After fifty three pages of automobiles, it is little wonder that the Towing category covered more pages, seven, than any other transportation category.

Manufacturers place a high priority on improving the quality and reliability of their products. Keep trying! Appliance Repairs and new Appliances occupy about equal space. Furniture fills seven pages while antiques cover a respectable four.

If there was any doubt about the national pastime, fret no more. Baseball Cards has its own listing and there are no football, basketball, jogging, surfing, or aerobic cards to be found in the yellow pages.

Winning politicians employ expensive staffs to advise them on the public’s attitude concerning law and order issues. They don’t need high priced consultants, just let their fingers do the walking. Where to buy Locks takes up six pages, Burglar preventive devices fills four pages and Security systems cover another four while Bail, how to get it, takes up eight pages.

Man’s best friend gets to go on this walk. The Pets category covers a modest four pages and includes most of the inhabitants on Noah’s Arc. Dogs, however, command, an additional four pages all by themselves. Cats too, have a separate listing, but it spans less than a one column inch.

Humanitarians should not despair. Nursing for humans occupied four pages, one more than Nurseries for plants.

The yellow pages are an accurate indicator of the climate as Furnace listings out number Air Conditioners five to two. While golfing is popular in the area, both Golf and Guns each fill two pages.

The mobility of our society is clearly evident in the yellow pages. Real Estate fills eighteen pages, Movers and Storage each occupy nine, and Travel has six. All that moving probably makes memories more important than ever as Photo’s fill up ten pages.

When dialing for dinner, Pizza’s seven pages will get your attention. Hamburgers, hot dogs, and apple pies didn’t make the cut. A visitor could become confused with thirty-two pages of Restaurants.

Some other categories maybe misleading, like Stripers-Mechanical. Because its your business, let your fingers do the walking, but be careful where you go.

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