area code

SIT Grammont Desk Telephone, images curtosousy of

Area codes used to mean something. They represented who you were, by associating yourself with a geographical location. When you heard “212” you knew New York City, “508” Central Massachusetts, or “315” as the Boonies. The area code was what identified who you were and where you were from. Even as a child we were able to quickly learn that “800” numbers were good and “900” numbers would get the young inquiring minds into trouble.

As we look at our antiquated phone infrastructure based on the population growth (Currently at a 0.915% annual change according to a 2008 study by the World Bank, World Development Indicators) [ awesome interactive population map by BreathingEarth ], we can assume that area codes will be (if not are already) irrelevant. Even if you live in the heart of Manhattan you won’t be able to get a “212” and if you are in Boston, good luck with the “617”. There will soon be more people than numbers, and because of this growth geographic restrictions are being lifted on the numbers being issued.

In addition to the growth of population, we have the problem of multiple people having multiple numbers. While landlines are decreasing to the same rates as the early 1990s (who still uses land lines?), VOIP (most notably, Skype), cell phones, and other broadband-based voice content are taking up new numbers. It is easy to get a phone number, simply by joining Google’s Voice (now available to iPhone), you are able to register a number whose primary purpose is to forward calls to whichever phone you want it to go to… which is a good way to increase privacy. After all, once a phone number of a celebrity is leaked to the Internet, said celebrity is quick to change their phone number—what a pain to notify their friends about their new number.

At what point will the phone number infrastructure change? Should we do away with numbers? Could we? After all, numbers are the only universal language.