Using the telephone used to be a fairly simple matter: You just picked up the phone and dialed.
But thanks to technology, making a phone call today can be a lesson in rote memory.
Want to prevent your number from being detected by Caller ID? Dial *67. Want to redial the number you just finished dialing? Hit *66. Want to activate speed dialing? Punch in 74#.
To use the full array of enhanced services offered by Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. of Maryland, for example, you'd have to remember 17 codes, since most services have two codes, an activation and a deactivation code.
Call Trace, which allows you to trace the number of the last call received, has only one code -- *57.
But you have to remember to punch it in after the call you want to trace is received, but before another call has come in.
All that memorization has no doubt left some phone customers, including People's Counsel John M. Glynn, scratching their heads and reaching for the instructions.
"The phone company expects citizens to deal with the phone like they're accessing a computer, and it is," said Mr. Glynn, who represents the interests of consumers before the Public Service Commission.
"My kids are tuned into this mentality. . . . But for me, it's a definite ef- fort."
As far as the phone company is concerned, it's a skill that's needed if you want to take advantage of the new services out there. And as more services become available -- you guessed it -- there will be even more codes to contend with.
"Customers initially may have some confusion as to how to activate and deactivate features," said Al Burman, a C&P spokesman.
"But with use comes knowledge and familiarity. Most people catch on very quickly."
To help that process along, C&P recently sent out bill inserts reminding people which codes to use for Repeat Call, Return Call and Call Trace, three services that are sold on a per-use basis.
Repeat Call and Return Call cost 75 cents per use; Call Trace costs $1 per use.
Codes for the other services, most of which are sold on a monthly basis, are listed in the front of the white pages.
People who still get stuck can call C&P's business office during business hours for help, or call C&P's repair line, Mr. Burman said.
Another option is to dial "0," the operator.
"Operators don't have a database they can access for that type of information, but you may get lucky," Mr. Burman said.