It is time for something new. Brand new. I would say that it is not going to be work related, but I can’t guarantee that. I might be tempted to call it an upbeat post, but I never know where these things might take me. I am going in with just one little talking point… one little insight. I wouldn’t even call it an epiphany and certainly not a revelation. Just a curiosity of our time and the passing of time – let’s see where it goes. Come on down the rabbit hole with me…
We live in an 11-digit society. Ok, ten digits. I never really understood why we had to dial that pesky “1” when calling outside the area code. Isn’t that why we dialed the area code in the first place? And it’s always a “1,” can’t they just add it on at the factory – why bother us with it? Whatever – that’s not the point. WHEW! Regroup…
Ok, we live in a ten-digit world. Area codes don’t even designate area anymore. It’s just that there are so darned many phones, faxes, cell phones, modems, dial-ups, and on and on that we need 10 digits just to direct a call across the street. It wasn’t always that way and in some places, it still isn’t. Where, you say? How about little Colfax.
Two-two-three-two. That’s my number at work, 2232. City hall is 2313. Colfax is still a four-digit town. Maybe it’s still that way where you live. Just before I moved to Truckee, it was a five-digit town. The two possible prefixes were 587 and 582. My phone number might have been 7 1234 or 2 9876. Five digits. Yes, dialing the number required all seven or sometimes ten, but the designate – the pure essence of our local identity could be represented in four or five easy-to-remember digits.
When I was young, phones had no buttons. When we “dialed” a number, there was actually a dial. I used to know how that old switching technology worked and have since forgotten, but some of the remnants of that old switching system are still with us today. For instance, when I moved from one side of Fair Oaks to the other, I could not keep my phone number. My new house was in a different “local exchange” meaning I had to get a different prefix. And I thought that prefixes were largely meaningless much the same as area codes are becoming. Whoops! That’s almost an epiphany. That was close!
Whitecliff 1 -1234 or Whitecliff 8-1234. That is where the first two numbers of the prefix of my hometown came into existence. 941 or 948, 9 for “W” and 4 for “H.” That’s right, look at the buttons on your phone. In the old days… the really old days, you would tell the operator “Whitecliff 1 1234” and she (it was always a she) would route your call at a switchboard. When the automated switching equipment came into existence, they had to change those routing areas into something a machine could understand – numbers.
Why my hometown’s exchange was referred to as “Whitecliff” is anybody’s guess. A very long time ago, there used to be a Whitecliff Market downtown – but I can’t say if it was the chicken or the egg. I do know this: There ain’t any white cliffs anywhere close. It’s interesting though. And now the opposite appears to be occurring. As more and more digits are added, the sheer number of numbers is becoming overwhelming.
Perhaps there is hope. Not for the four-digit towns like Colfax. Like it or not, the 10-digit world has already overtaken it. The hope lies in the trend away from numeric identification altogether. True, we are just numbers and for the machines to track us it is the way it has to be, but as far as relating to each other – by phone – it’s changing. Today phones have progressed way beyond just buttons. They have screens and memory and are in all actuality mini computers with more power than the room-sized computers of yesteryear.
We scroll to a name and push a button. When the phone rings, it displays a name – sometimes even a photo of the party on the other side. I used to have at least 50 numbers stored in my head. Today? Maybe five. I don’t need to commit that memory anymore. I have an electronic device that does it for me. Several actually. Can I use that memory for something else? Dunno, but I do know that although I may be just a number, when I call someone - I’m vowels and consonants too.