in Cheap Thoughts, Futurist, Geezer

Cheap Thoughts: phone numbers

Alex didn't need no numbers

This week’s reminder that 10-digit dialing is coming to the Triangle made me wonder why we even use phone numbers anymore. With all the smartphones, voice dialing, and Voice-Over-IP (VoIP) systems in place, having to remember a 10-digit number to call someone seems … quaint.

The VoIP system I have at home can easily handle phone numbers made of digits, of course, but it can also handle calling using a SIP address that looks more like an email address ( In fact, my phone calls can be routed entirely over the Internet, never touching a traditional phone switch (or as they’re known by phone geeks, the “public switched telephone network”).

Imagine having to remember the “dotted quad” IP addresses of all the Internet sites you want to surf. It would be pretty futile, wouldn’t it? Smart people like Jon Postel and Paul Mockapetris dreamed up the Domain Name System (DNS) years ago so humans could remember words ( instead of numbers ( Why haven’t we applied the same thinking to phones by now?

Back in the day, one “dialed” phones by picking up and telling the human operator at your local phone company office who you wanted to talk to (“Ruth, get me Pennsylvania 65000“). There’s no reason now why one couldn’t simply do the same now, only talking to a computer operator. In fact, AT&T actually has some of the best voice-recognition technology of anyone.

It is 2012, almost a hundred and forty years since Alexander Graham Bell patented the first telephone. In this day and age we should be creating fewer phone numbers, not more!

  1. I like the anonymizing that a number does for you – and the disposability of said number if/when you no longer want/like them

  2. There are ways to accomplish this without numbers, Warren. And the disposability idea is one I’ve also considered.

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