March 29th, 2005


My parents still have the same phone number at their house that I had growing up – at least, from age six on. That’s when we moved to the town they still live in. We lived in two different houses in that town, and they still live in the house we moved into in 1979.

I remember as a kid being able to dial other people in the same town by just dialing a “3” and then the last four digits of their number. Everyone in town had a “563” number, and this was just the way things were back then. It was certainly a step up from having to dial the operator and say “Klondike 623” and wait to be connected (much less having to worry about the operator listening in on your phone calls).

Somewhere along the way “they” made a change and then we had to dial the whole “563” prefix before dialing an in-town number. What a pain. It really took some getting used to.

Then the area code changed. All of Wisconsin had the same area code, but now they have three or four different ones. We had hoped we’d get to keep “414” but it got changed. Still, though, we could just dial the prefix and the number for in-town calls. It was when we called people in other parts of the state that we had to wonder about the area code. For the time being, if someone gave you a phone number, you just had to remember the last four digits because the first three were all the same.

That changed, of course. For a while I lived in a town that had three different prefixes. Now I live in one that seems to have an infinite variety of prefixes. No longer can you just remember the last four or five digits. It’s all or nothing now.

Add cell phones into that mix and it gets absolutely crazy. For a while, even the three major cell companies that provided service here had distinct prefixes, and you could tell which cell company a person was with based on their cell number. Now you can’t even do that.

They say that we’re going to run out of available phone numbers soon. There are only so many ways you can combine 10 digits using 0-9. I’d do the math to tell you, but I’ve forgotten the exact method of being able to figure that out. Phone numbers were specifically designed to be seven numbers long because researchers determined that the human brain could hold seven distinct values in short-term memory at any given time. Add any more to the total, and the brain has to start dropping things. (I remember hearing this somewhere, but I also do not have any bibliography to back it up, so don’t blame me if you try to use it in a research paper. You should be reading encyclopedias for your research, not blogs!)

I used to be able to remember a person’s number if I dialed it once. I’d just have it and could recall it when I needed to. Then I got a watch that could store phone numbers and I lost the ability to recall phone numbers from my mind. I don’t remember if I got the watch because I could no longer remember numbers, or if I stopped being able to remember the numbers because I got the watch. They happened around the same time, so you can draw your own conclusions.

My first “memory watch” could hold 40 numbers. My next one (and the three exact same models of it I bought, one after another) could hold 150. Then I got a PDA which could hold as many as I could cram into it’s memory. Then I got a better PDA from work and it could hold more. Then I got a different job and had to give that PDA back, so I just started using and address program on my computer, which could hold even more numbers. It turns out, I don’t really know that many people, so I just keep the numbers I need in my cell phone’s memory.

Of course, it’s not just the person’s cell phone number you need. If they’ve got a work number and a home number, you need that, too. Modern-day cell phones have that all worked out for you and let you put different icons by different types of phone numbers. Most of them also let you store the person’s email address and whatever else you might happen to want to store in there.

But it’s all electronic.

One good EMP blast from a nearby thermonuclear explosion and that info’s all gone for good. Every so often, I like to actually type up and print out a page of the numbers in my phone, just in case.

I kind of wish everyone was assigned a phone number at birth that they carried with them all throughout their life. I’m sure there are those who’d think this was a major intrusion of privacy and yadda yadda yadda, but I’m here to say that those people are just jealous because no one ever calls them.

8 Comments on “8-6-7-5-3-0-Nie-ee-ine”

  1. AitchPe says:

    On the plus side, three years later I finally learned my mobile number. Sadly, I've no one to give it to.

    But I know it!

  2. Angie says:

    Whoops, that was so Angie right there. Stupid thing.

  3. A says:

    If you turn my cell number upside down, it has the number 666 in it.

    Soo… I am sad that no one ever calls me. I've got about 49 numbers in my phone, and baout three numbers for each person. That's what, 16 people? About five iof them are Internet friends, too.


  4. Mike says:

    Houston also has to deal with multiple area codes in addition to different prefixes, up to 3 area codes now: 281, 713, 832

    I'm with you on the remembering numbers thing, I used to know my good friend's numbers and a select few others, now if it is anything other than calling my parents or Meags I usually have to look it up. Took me about a year to finally remember my apartment number, and I still can never seem to remember my cell phone number.

    Oddly enough, I have no problems with my credit card #, complete with expiration date and check digits. Though that probably is heavily related to the number of times I used it to buy calling cards to talk to Meags last summer pre-vonage.

  5. matty says:

    You had a watch that stored 150 phone numbers?? That is amazing.

  6. Beth says:

    Emily says, " tell him i do find him really creepy and that i told you to stay away from him :-)"
    hee hee…

  7. Sycro says:

    The number of available numbers, excluding the area code is 9×10^6 (assuming that 0 is not the first number). The area code multiplies it by 9×10^2, once again assuming no leading 0. So, the US as a whole has room for 8.1 billion numbers under the current system. I'd say we're safe.

    But don't feel too bad, Metro Atlanta has 3 area codes by itself. The rest of the state is split among another 3.

  8. MadMup says:

    I was totally hoping someone would hop in here with the math! thanks, Sycro!

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