My memory for numbers has always been good. I know the phone number at the house we lived in for most of my childhood. Just now, I discovered that it is a working number in the 631 area code. I rang up to see who would answer, but the call was “forwarded to an automatic voice message system” and the number was “not available.”
When my kids were little, I was the walking directory when they wanted to call friends. (This was before cellphones, of course.) But the proliferation of area codes that no longer immediately describe where the call originates, and of unfamiliar exchanges, is giving me pause. It was easier to remember phone numbers when their origins were instantly identifiable, and, even before that, when exchanges began with words, like Butterfield 8.
As far as I know, the 324 at the start of original East Hampton numbers stands for EA-4: EAst Hampton 4, like the MUrray Hill 5 of “I Love Lucy” fame. But perhaps someone out there will correct me if I’m wrong.
I called Verizon this week and a media relations person laughed when I said how nonplused some people here were when they were given a 329 exchange rather than 324. They thought the older exchange had a certain cachet, while the newer number seemed to imply you were new, too. (Using this criterion, The Star has the most glamorously old-old East Hampton number of all: The numbers reveal that it was the second phone number ever assigned in town: 324-0002.) The Verizon spokesman said he had been around when lots of its customers were upset that their area code had been changed from 212 to something they considered démodé.
“There used to be a lot of excitement over exchanges and area codes,” he said, “but because of technology that’s gone.” He rattled off a bunch of area codes for different parts of New York City: 646, 917, 718, 347, and 929. I had encountered only three of the five. He pointed out that you can keep an area code regardless of where you make calls from and that for a fee you can get another number tied to the one you use.
In the old days, I would get annoyed if I forgot a phone number and had to look it up. Wounded pride. But now that so many people are giving up their land lines, and there are no cellphone listings in the white pages, I’d be happy to have that option.
The Verizon spokesman said the company had lost significant revenue from the move away from land lines over the last 10 years. “Historically, families had two or three lines in a home and teenagers had their own,” he said.
Well, I’m not about to feel sorry for Verizon. It signed up 882,000 wireless customers in the last fiscal quarter, with profits doubling. And did you know that 2,000 employees marched from the company’s downtown headquarters on Oct. 21, circling Zuccotti Park and supporting Occupy Wall Street? Their beef is with corporate greed and the fact that five Verizon executives combined were paid $258 million over the last four years.
Meanwhile, I hope some folks who are technologically brilliant will figure out how to create a directory of cellphone numbers. I’d say their megaprofits would be well earned.