Feel like a number

May 01, 2012|Editorial from The Aegis

It's strange to look back at copies of this newspaper dated 50 years ago and see phone numbers of four digits in the various advertisements.

Truth be known, they weren't really four digit numbers, but rather six and seven digit numbers with words whose first two letters corresponded to letters associated with numbers on phone dials (or modern phone punch pads).

For example, in Bel Air, the word was TErrace. T corresponds to 8; for E, dial 3. Eventually, the exchanges were further divided and Bel Air became TErrace 8, or simply 838, followed by the four digits assigned to a particular home or business. (Aberdeen was CRestwood, then CRestwood-2; Havre de Grace, WEstmore then WEstmore-9). As more people got phones, the need to add digits increased, but the digits haven't necessarily been added one at a time. After TE and TE8, we got area codes. First, Maryland was all 301. Then came 410, which was something of a rude awakening for those of us in the Baltimore Area because the Washington, D.C. suburbs got to keep 301 and it was us in the Baltimore area who had to make the switch to 410. It was perhaps the loudest proclamation that D.C. had become Maryland's preeminent city after having for decades being little more than a curiosity compared to the powerhouse Baltimore had once been.

Even as Maryland's population has remained relatively static, the number of phones has continued to increase. Where the rule was once multiple users for each phone and phone number, the modern reality is multiple phone numbers for each person. Heck, it's gotten to where we don't even have to write them down. We just program the numbers in once and look our phone targets up in our cell phones, or BlackBerrys, or Droids, or iPhones or ...

The reality has dawned on us phone users, and the phone company, that there really isn't any need for an area code associated with a particular area. Terrace-8 may once have been strictly associated with the geographic area of Bel Air, 301 with Maryland, 410 with northern and eastern Maryland, but we've since added more. When 443 was established as an area code, it really wasn't associated with a particular area; 410 wasn't further divided, it's just that new numbers were assigned 443 instead of 410. Now comes a new area code, again not associated with a new area. It's just that we're used to calling those first three digits area codes. It's 667 and it's just a matter of time before it shows up on a phone you're answering.

It's probably just the beginning, too. Further adding to the confusion is the reality that we're allowed to keep our phone numbers these days, so it isn't all that uncommon for people living in Maryland to have "area codes" associated with states where they used to live when they got the phones they're using.

So is it really an area code? Well, from a certain perspective, it never was. It's just a number assigned to an electronic device that allows us to have conversations with people out of the range of our voices. Still, it's kind of funny how we get attached to such things as area codes and words like Terrace. Maybe it's because they remind us of home.

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