Don't throw away your phone books. At one time I considered removing much of the clutter in my office by discarding all the business card cases, notebooks filled with pages of contact information, association directories, Extension and Experiment Station personnel lists, and other data that could be easily accessed via the Internet — without all that paper and plastic, which somehow accumulates as rapidly as dust bunnies under the bed.

I even went so far as to stack them all up, tote them to the garage in preparation for permanent filing. My filing clerks come twice a week. I just leave stuff on the curb and they take it away and file it for me.

Retrieval is a bit of a problem.

Before all my contact lists became part of what may one day be fill for Dallas' next building project, however, I needed to locate an Extension specialist, one I'd never worked with before and so didn't have an e-mail bookmark.

I logged onto the Internet, found my list of agriculture contact sites (cleverly cached in a folder tagged “Ag Sites”), selected the appropriate university and typed in the department I needed to locate (Extension dairy) in the “Search” box. Results:

“No Departments, Units, or Programs were found for the text you entered. You may press the back button on your browser to return to the form and enter something different.”

Tried again. “Extension Dairy specialist”: No Departments, Units, or Programs were found for the text you entered. You may press the back button on your browser to return to the form and enter something different.

I pressed the back button and tried again. Make it a little broader category, I thought. “Animal Science” went into the search block and, voila:

No Departments, Units, or Programs were found for the text you entered. You may press the back button on your browser to return to the form and enter something different.

I pressed the back button again, harder this time. “Extension Animal Science Department,” went into that menacing little search block.

No Departments, Units, or Programs were found for the text you entered. You may press the back button on your browser to return to the form and enter something different.

Back up again. I typed: “Liquid calcium producing bovine management specialists” into that nasty little “search” (what a joke) box. The computer hummed and clicked a few seconds and a new message flashed up:

That's the same as a dairy specialist, stupid. Why don't you poke that button again and come up with something better?

Like I need a computer with an attitude. But, one more time: “Cud chewing, milk producing, Elsie looking animal technicians.” More computer humming, clicking, flashing, etc., and this message pops up:

See dairy specialist. And abuse that button one more time and see how much voltage can come through a keypad.

Sorrrrry. I put on some rubber gloves and went back to my “Ag Sites” folder and tried the communications department. A “search box” appeared on that page too, and it looked somehow more user-friendly so I tried: “Animal Science, preferably someone who works with dairy cows, Extension.” Again the humming, clicking, flashing routine and a new message:

We don't have any more information than the last site you tried. Don't you have a phone book? And take off those silly gloves; it feels icky.

By this time I had wasted three hours “surfing” the net and never caught a decent cyber wave. So, reluctantly, I went out to the garage, picked up a discarded Extension Directory, looked in the index under “Dairy Department,” and located three specialists, complete with addresses, phone numbers and email. Time “wasted”: 37 seconds.

It took less than five minutes to lug all those books, cards and directories back into my office and pile them in the corner where I can get to them.

rsmith@primediabusiness.com