t seems to me that life is about to get more complicated for those of us who still use a telephone to make or receive calls, you know, using the phone to have an actual conversation with another live person. I realize this practice is rapidly giving way to texting, tweeting, and similar electronic substitutes for talking, but, for some of us, person-to-person dialogue remains the preferred means of reaching out to another individual, office, or business. ( I don’t text, tweet, twitter, or chirp but I have e-mail that appears to be a sufficient additional communications capability.)
Okay, so what’s coming up that will involve our making phone calls? Well, in brief, we shortly will have to use the area code in addition to the phone number even for local calls – and in some cases we must also include the “1” prefix as well. Yep, shortly those convenient seven digit numbers we know so well will become ten or eleven digits long. Life sure gets complicated, doesn’t it.
I can recall when small town phone numbers were four digits long although some of the larger cities adopted a scheme to use six digits because of the greater demand for phone numbers. The way the phone companies did this was by introducing “exchanges” such as MUrreyhill or PRospect as prefixes to a four digit number with the first two letters of the exchange being converted into digits when called. The logic was that folks could more easily recall the “exchange” plus four digits than six digits. This design must have worked well as a memory assist because my Sweetheart-for-Life recalls that when she lived in Milwaukee as a young girl, her phone number was BLuemound 8123.
In those not-too-distant days many calls were operator-assisted, that is the caller could dial “0” to get an operator and request the call be placed to the desired number. Long distance calls had to be placed through a “long distance operator” who had access to trunk lines connecting cities – and sometimes a long distance call took a while to get through.
In general, there were two types of long distance calls: “station-to station” in which the caller asked to be connected to a number regardless of who answered to the phone; and, “person- to-person” in which the caller wanted to speak to a specific individual. The cost of each long distance call depended on the type of call, distance between the two parties, time of day, day of the week, and length of the call. The caller was responsible for the charges, however, the recipient could agree to accept a “collect” call. Quite a bit different from today’s system with its area codes and direct dialing capability. Okay, enough nostalgia and back to what’s going on with this latest area code complication.
What’s coming up in a few weeks is that a new, different area code will be added to the existing area code serving this region. The “official” term for this process is an “area code overlay” meaning the new area code will be “overlaid” on the same geographic area served by the present area code, thus two area codes will be serving this same part of our state. The primary result of this “overlay” is that it will require our using the appropriate area code plus the seven digit telephone number to make a call – including local ones currently needing only seven digits.
So what will NOT change? Well, as I understand it, a subscriber’s telephone number including area code won’t change nor will the price of a call, area coverage, and other rates. What is now a local call will remain a local call regardless of the number of digits dialed, and three digit numbers such as 911 will remain the same. I’ve checked our “frequently called numbers” on our cell phones and they already include the area code, so those shouldn’t be a problem. We also, however, use those phones for “infrequently called numbers” so we’re gonna hafta make that adjustment.
Our “land-line” phone – yes, we still have one – doesn’t have a frequently called number feature but does have automatic call tie-in’s that may require reprogramming. I imagine some folks may also encounter difficulties with fax machines, call forwarding, voice mail, and such. And that’s not all. We recently got a new supply of checks from our bank and they had only our seven digit telephone number on them. Kinda wonder about business stationery and ads and what about the phone directories currently listing only seven digit numbers for most entries. Yep, the impact of this change is more widespread than may be apparent.
Well, there you have it. Another example of how “progress” continues to make our lives more and more complicated. You know, I sometimes wonder how much progress I can take. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a regular Greene County Daily contributing columnist and local area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.