Tuesday, December 24, 2002

THE FUTURE BEGINS NEXT MONTH: Starting in February 2003, New Yorkers will be required to dial eleven digits to make all outgoing phone calls. (Oh -- apparently we were all supposed to have started doing this last April -- to "become accustomed to the new dialing pattern," says Verizon. Guess I didn't get the memo.)

In other words, whenever we Manhattanites want to call any number in the (212) area code from within our own (212) area code -- even if I want to make an intra-office call within the bank of phone numbers assigned to my own office! -- we'll have to pretend like we're calling long-distance and dial the (1+212) prefix first.

Verizon claims this is necessary because the ubiquity of cheap telecommunication devices has exhausted the supply of 7-digit numbers -- the implication being that they must shortly introduce so many more new area code overlays that the very concept of making a call "within" an area code has become obsolete. In other words, they're trying to get us to stop thinking in terms of area codes altogether, and simply grow to accept that 21st Century phone numbers will be ten digits long.

What's missing in this equation? (1) Available technology and (2) common sense.

(1) Why should we even be forced to continue dealing with the outmoded concept of phone NUMBERS anymore? Surely the vast telecommunications infrastructure has enough raw computing power available by now, that someone could program a "voice recognition" robot central server to respond properly when I say into the phone, in a crisp, clear voice, "Connect me with Mrs. Fruitsnoot of Springfield." (And if that's not enough unique information -- if it happens that there's more than one unique individual named Fruitsnoot in each of the various different cities named Springfield -- the server can politely prompt me for a street address or state.)

(2) Okay, we're stuck with 10-digit phone numbers for a few more years. Fine. But why-o-why-o-why must we also be forced to dial "1" first? Is there not one programmer in the entire organization who could have piped up and volunteered: "Ummm -- we could just program the system to infer that the first digit of all outgoing calls will be "1". (Obviously, certain special express-dial numbers such 911, 411 and 0 could be passed through with simple pattern recognition filters.)

Darn the luck -- those must have been the guys that Verizon pink-slipped this week. Maybe during the next tech bubble, then...?


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