The changing cultural value of the area code

Really interesting article in The Atlantic on the origins, development, and societal impact of the telephone area code:

“I want to tell you about the controversy the Bell System’s embrace of numeracy provoked—how resentful some people became when their familiar method of making phone calls was taken from them. I want to tell you about why the change was necessary, and how it still informs our conception of phone calls and text messages. I want to tell you about the future of the phone number…

Long ago divested of its original role, the three-digit code now functions as a kind of shared social media handle, a collective identity. It’s no longer something to be remembered—we have our phones for that—but is instead something to be talked about. I meet someone at a party. We exchange numbers. ‘Oh, 510!’ I might say. ‘I was in Oakland a few weeks ago!’

‘And 831!’ the new acquaintance might reply. ‘I love the Aquarium!’

We’d owe that conversation, in some part, to the Bell System. And to the 10-digit coding system the telecom giant introduced to, and on behalf of, the American public half a century ago…”

I love me some historical context. And I have to wonder what those outraged by the digital-dialing’s “cult of technology” would make of cultural products like and this hilariously genius map:


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