“I am not a number. I am a free man!” shouts the protagonist during the opening scene of the 1960s television series "The Prisoner." Then, a disembodied voice admonishes, “You are Number Six.”
Lately, I’ve found myself empathizing with Number Six.
I’m new to Rochester, having moved from the Twin Cities last month. After you’ve been someplace for a while, you may not notice just how often folks use just seven digits when giving you a telephone number. If you ask “507?” you get a look, an ever so slightly arched eyebrow that conveys, “You’re not from around here, are you?” When give your own telephone number, “612 555-1212,” the response is more pointed, “You must be from The Cities.”
So, getting a new telephone number, one beginning with “507,” is high on my to-do list. Area Code 507 is my home now, and I’m committed to being from around here.
I’ve got a long history with telephone numbers. One of my first assignments in kindergarten was to memorize my home telephone number. I aced it in a week flat, “SYcamore eight two five hundred.” And I’m old enough to remember listening in as the telephone operators manually connected us to my grandma in Sauk Centre, each operator getting a step closer, “St. Cloud, this is Minneapolis Central. I have a station-to-station call for Sauk Centre.”
Alas, in the 1960s the tranquil sounding SYcamore eight two five hundred became merely 798-2500. And we got a three digit area code. Apparently the Bell System had been working on area codes since World War II. Who knew Minnesota initially had only two area codes, 612 and 218 … and that Rochester was in 612 along with the Twin Cities?
Memorizing 10 impersonal digits was more challenging than the friendly word followed by five numbers. But, the convenience of being able to dial directly was worth the additional memorization. As a bonus, you could tell something about where people lived just by their area code. Grandma lived in Sauk Centre, smack dab in the middle of 218.
But, over the years, order descended toward chaos. The one telephone number for our house became two when we added a second line for the dial-up modem. Cell phones added to the confusion. By 1998, the 612 area code was full, so 651 was added. The decision to divide the Twin Cities right down the middle widened the chasm between Minneapolis and St. Paul and those in 651 were forever branded as east-siders.
Today Minnesota requires seven area codes, four in the Twin Cities alone, to accommodate all of our telephones. I’ve mostly adjusted to using all 10 digits when calling. Still, I don’t want to stand out as being not from around here, so I’m looking forward to my very own 507 telephone number.
Changing a telephone number is always disruptive, but it’s especially daunting these days. I’ve got to let everyone know my new number -- and take advantage of the opportunity to strategically forget to notify a few. The bigger challenge is those “two factor authentication” schemes where, once you’ve entered your password (assuming you were able to remember it), they insist on sending a text message to your cell phone, which only proves that the hacker is in possession of my cell phone at that moment. How many of those will I need to update? How frustrating will it be when I’m in a hurry to access my account but forgot to change my telephone number on that particular website?
I think I’ve found an easy solution: a new 507 telephone number that rings through to my old 612 number. I’ll have two telephone numbers, but only one telephone. That should trick those two-factor sentinels. A bonus: Folks in the 507 area code can dial just seven digits if they want. Best of all, the new number is free with Google Voice. Although their algorithm seems to have decided that I’m starting a small business and is sending popup ads for business cards, accounting software, and industrial microwave ovens.
Having two numbers is a little confusing. Even though I’m calling you from 507, sometimes caller ID will tell you I’m calling from 612. If that happens, don’t even think about asking. I’m likely to shout, “I’m not a number, I’m a free man!”
Craig Wruck describes himself as a relentless optimist. He is a retired college administrator who recently relocated to Rochester to spend more time growing up with his grandson. Send comments on columns to Jeff Pieters, firstname.lastname@example.org.