How to Find A Local Business

“Looking for out-of-town information….coming up short”

two logos on a page: the yellow pages 'let your fingers do the walking' and now siri, 'let siri do the talking'.
How we search for a business has changed

Dear Ms Smartphone: How should I find a local business?  My family wanted to take a rafting trip together so I went online. Most of the places are about 60 miles from my home.  I searched on Google and picked the one with a good web site and nice pictures of the river. When we got there, I discovered there were other rafting places nearby that were open and had better boats. Unfortunately, they did not come up in my search or at least I don’t remember that they did. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I preferred it when we searched the Yellow Pages. Bernice, S. San Francisco

Dear Bernice:

Do you remember the slogan, “Let your fingers do the walking (through the yellow pages?” Well, today it’s “Let Siri do the talking”! 

Your question is interesting, because indeed, how we search for information and how we discover things in the community have changed so much. As of 2011, nearly 70 % of Americans rarely or never used printed phone directories (the yellow pages), and since then most have gone digital. Even if you liked to use the yellow pages keep in mind that you needed a local directory to search a business even 60 miles away.

Not So Local!

Several years ago there was a scam in digital searches. Say you were looking online for a towing service or locksmith. The address would not pop up and people naively thought they were reaching a local business. Instead, the online connection was to shills far away. Sometimes these nefarious characters took credit card information online and never showed up, or, subbed out the work. 

Since then, search engines like Google, Bing and others have cleaned up their protocols and make it more evident when you do a local search that you are reaching a local business. In terms of your specific search for rafting trips, a couple of things might have gone missing. 

Keywords (and Key Phrases)

First, the businesses that display top-most in the search, like the one you selected, could have bought an ad placement. Here’s how it works:  The business owner bids on keywords and pays a fee to display their name at the top of the list if someone searches choice terms like ‘raft’ or ‘water adventure’ or ‘canoe.’ There’s a tiny icon that says ‘ad’ when the listing displays on your screen, but it certainly easy to overlook it if you are in a hurry.

That said, local businesses do not have to pay to have their listing posted on Google. The listing is free and Google gives them a free web page and map links.  But, without the keywords, the listing may display further down the search page. 

It takes a little bit of digital savvy for a business owner to understand how to get listed and show up on the map. In your case, the other rafting companies may have ignored this, or simply didn’t care. In this link you will find a funny, perhaps sad, discussion between Google business and a locksmith– the locksmith said he just wanted to fix things, he did not know, or care to learn, about posting things on a computer. 

Searching is a 2-way street

The onus to search is a two-way street. To get the full listings you want for a far-away community, the geographic location needed to be specified. Sometimes we turn off the GPS on our devices,  and forget to include the place-name in our searches. We all tend to stop searching after the first few listings display, but the first ones-up are the paid-for-ads.  Other local businesses (e.g. the other rafting businesses) may be several pages deep and require more effort to find.


I would like to think that younger people (the Digital Natives) dig deeper in their search requests and do not stop at the first results. But, maybe not. Do you recall how many businesses in the days of  Yellow Pages called themselves “AAAAAlocksmith, AAAAplumber and AAAArafting? When it comes to finding things, both then and now, a little knowledge helps float the boat.

Should Teen Remove TikTok?

A Mom is wondering where she and her teen stand on this issue….

A juxtaposition of the tik-tok corporate logo and a tick-tock kid's toy clock from Fisher Price.
TikTok: not your average learning toy !

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Should my teen remove Tiktok from her phone? During the lockdown she and her best friends have been getting together and making up choreographed dances. It’s a lot of fun and I love being their audience. The app has helped us keep active and share things. Even though we like it,  I am concerned by what I read. It doesn’t seem good and I don’t want her to have spyware on the phone. Should I ask my teen to take the app off her phone, or am I just having a knee-jerk reaction? Madeline, Novato

Dear Madeline: This one is above my pay-grade, as the expression goes, so I will just offer some general comments. I am reading and watching the same stories as you.


I would use this occasion as an opportunity to talk about social media with my teen. The political fray gives you a chance to remind them that social media is more complicated than the plot of ‘Games of Thrones.’ On the Internet, nothing is permanently private, and what teens post, in drips and drabs, (ie, their digital exhaust) could become a permanent record. That might not seem so important in ninth grade, but it could become a liability for employment later on. Moreover, postings can be manipulated and changed without direct permission. Kids seem to naturally understand the idea of song covers- most of the time a musical reinterpretation (the cover) is creative and good, but it could be juxtapositioned for bad.

You, or the Algorithm?

The second issue I would discuss with my teen is the “pop stardom” that might lure them to TikTok. Music, dance, and humor come naturally, and getting that 15 seconds of fame is like, well, getting into an Ivy League school, but better. When you commit to social media, you also feel obligated to package and promote yourself. But, sometimes, it’s not about us, but rather, about the the algorithm; how does it know just what to show you and when? Whatever your teens social investment in  TikTok, there will be new venues to be conquered: just this week Instagram announced Reels, a brand new video feature.

As we grow more accustomed to smartphone technology and become more sophisticated with it, apps like TikTok might appear very primitive. Slapstick comedy is often an entry point during the infancy of a medium. Do readers, or their grandparents, remember vaudeville performances at movie theatres or Alan Funt’s “Candid Camera” on television? One source says that TikTok is like future social media in which the least amount of effort is expended to be a content creator with a shot at viral fame or at least a few laughs.

You, or Where you Go?

So, while the content may be simple or funny, the underlying app may not be. The content is delivered within a smartphone (aka computer) that could potentially be advanced, at the data collection and surveillance level. In reading why India banned TikTok, it was ostensibly because Indian soldiers were involved in a crash with Chinese troops in the Himalayas. We civilians don’t know whether the app was tracking the soldiers’ movement through hidden code or whether this an international row motivated by political tensions, the economy, or something else.

One of the issues that goes unsaid in social media is that the content and posts of individual users is probably not that significant to providers- but information harvested from their devices could be. It’s a plus when we want to track Covid, but dangerous in other situations. A malicious app could contain code that extract the names of contacts, recent phone activities, the usage of other apps and more.

It’s hard to read the clock-face of TikTok, but it does make sense to talk though these ‘timely’ issues with your teen and listen to what she has to say. No doubt teens are one step ahead, neither turning to Microsoft or Instagram, and instead, trying out brand new platforms.

Is Move To Suburb Good for Kids?

An urban Grandma asks when kids move out do they use the Internet less?

This is a book cover from 1997 titled "Better Place to Live" by Philip Langdon. How should suburbia be reimagined?
Suburbia is Good? Philip Langdon, 1997

Dear Ms. Smartphone: Is it good for kids to move to the suburbs? My son and his family plan to move out of the city to a home about 20 miles away. He said his three children are spending too much time on the Internet and also when they move they will each have their own bedroom. I think where they live today is just fine even though they share rooms.  Do you think this move will really help the children when it comes to using the Internet less? As I see it, there are so many fun things to do here in my neighborhood.  Judy, Brookline

Dear Judy: Your son is not alone- there is a narrative that families are doing an exodus from big metro centers these days. Working from home in tight quarters is a chief reason to move out with the closure of favorite restaurants and hangouts. But to answer the question you pose, what are the differences of  urban vs. suburban? The picture at the top is from a 1997 book that argued that the suburbs were stressful, unhealthy places to live. Now the pendulum swings back.

This chart, which comes from an extensive U.S.  time-use study in 2019, shows little difference in what people do in suburbs vs. cities, even with an outdoor activity like playing sports. You asked about media, and that’s not exactly captured, although the categories of watching sports and leisure/relaxing are closely related.

Behind Closed Doors:

In a bigger home with separate bedroom parents will have less ability to see and watch what their kids are doing on the Internet, particularly if the kids used to browse from a shared computer or tablet. Today, bedrooms often do double duty as arcade and game rooms.  But, it’s a balance for families- if Mom or Dad telework, they need to be able to shut the door too.

In the suburbs your son and his family will be spending more time driving, either to see you in Brookline, or for work and school. Kids playing with phones in cars, even as a passenger, is not a good habit. The car is an essential place for conversation, for looking out the window, and managing in-between time. I sometimes wonder if parents who talk a lot on their own phones as they drive, and/or let little kids use their phones in the car imbue a habit that lasts for a lifetime…. when these kids grow up, they become drivers on phones, and drive unsafe.

Inside Closed Cars:

And, speaking of driving, when people move to suburbs with children, kids are generally less independent, unless there are safe sidewalks and bicycles to travel on. Otherwise, these children need to rely on their parents or caregivers to drive them almost everywhere. When children can’t socialize in person or go places,  they might spend more time on their computers or phones, either playing video games or going on social media.

Ultimately, it will be up to your son and his family to set new rules, and to manage how much time the children spend on the Internet. I hope that the move works out well for the family and you will be there helping them manage the changes.