‘Grab the phonebook and pinch it in the center’

By Henry Soong

I spent the better part of a day recently trying to tear my phonebook in two. Well actually, I spent the better part of it stealing Yellow Pages by the armful from Illini Tower’s unguarded mail room. Dodging lobby security cameras and curious stares in the elevator, I wily managed to procure 36 bound copies on a hotel luggage cart for my YouTube-inspired experiment.

Take a wander over to YouTube and watch spacepainter’s how-to instructional video aptly named “Rip a phonebook in half.” Watch Mr. spacepainter, a burly bearded guy, as he literally tears his phonebook in two with relative ease and then dances around the living room with the shredded yellow halves.

Amazed, I considered inviting spacepainter to campus to teach my paperback copy of “Principles of MicroEconomics, 5th Edition” a thing or two. The video continues, however, and spacepainter reveals the secrets to tearing a phonebook in half:

“Grab the phonebook and pinch it in the center … if you look carefully you’ll see a space of air between each page … so you pinch it and pull out at the same time.” In the video, the book comes apart mid-page as he rips away at the initial tear.

Dumbfounded by spacepainter’s final step – pinch it and pull out at the same time – I struggled feebly to get my fingers to pinch inward, keeping the air pockets between the pages inflated, whilst using the same fingers to pull them viciously apart. After a good quarter-hour of heaving and making contorted facial expressions, I put down the book and asked for some help.

A few flights above my floor, eight would-be Yellow Book rippers convened to master the art of book-tear. Tomato-faced and sitting atop a mountain of phone books as we all pinched and pulled to no avail, we looked more like a meeting of the Chronically Constipated.

If you search for the keywords “rip phone book” on YouTube, you’ll get roughly 400 search results of video bloggers shredding their Yellow Books. Video popularity varies widely from the nearly 3 million views for spacepainter’s definitive “Rip a phonebook in half” to as few as three (four after yours truly watched it) views for azatman’s equally commendable “Taco and Pedro rip phone books.” Video surfing from demonstration to demonstration, my friends and I watched enviously as hundreds of books and thousands of pages were destroyed senselessly.

None of the 400 videos, however, were able to teach us the secret to the pinch’n’pull technique.

The abundance of instructional videos on this erudite pursuit leads me to ponder two conclusions: (1) that my friends and I are the only chronically constipated people on earth who cannot follow simple directions and that (2) the popularity of videos in the YouTube community is completely arbitrary.

What exactly makes spacepainter’s rendition of phonebook-ripping more compelling than azatman’s? The 400 videos of essentially the same directory destruction are all astonishing at first glance. Yet, if anything, azatman’s luchador masks and manly screams of effort make the novelty of ripping a phonebook in two more entertaining. Why it is then that spacepainter’s video has more viewers than Chicago has residents?

Given all the research being done on how Internet surfers use the Internet, it might be useful to determine what qualities, if any, viral videos use to pull in viewers and make them come back to watch again and again. The gurus of the marketing industry are already hard at work discerning the magical qualities of spacepainter’s genius, I assume.

As the groundbreaking research gets under way, though, I am still wondering what exactly spacepainter means by pinch it and pull. The fleet of phonebooks still sits on the luggage cart smuggled into my bedroom, and I would really like to make good, environmentally responsible use of these books by ripping them apart with my sheer strength.

I’d really appreciate a follow up explanation. E-mail and YouTube are both acceptable options.

Henry is a freshman in Business and if you are a burly bearded man who can help unlock the secrets to pinch’n’pull, please send all the advice you can.