A thought occurred to me when I was writing down my phone number recently, about something that we had taken for granted (and see less frequently even on TV) – the 1 you dialed for accessing long distance calling. I haven’t used it for dialing a phone call for at least a half of a year (when I fired the old phone company), and even before then, it was rare for me to use it because we just didn’t do that much long distance phoning.
Here’s the ironic part – as far as I can tell, for a long time, the numbers for area codes (i.e. three digits, second was a 0 or 1), were likely reserved as unavailable. The reason for this was that the telephone numbers used to be Two letters followed by a varying number of digits (in big cities, out where I live, it was more like a ring pattern that was dialled). In fact, some businesses took that particular tactic of advertising their old letter prefix into the 80s, as seen here by this series of Lincoln Carpeting commercials from Chicago –
Of course, the 0 and 1 don’t have letters (unless you have one of those phone models that have the Q and Z on the 1, even though it’s common practice to put them on 7 and 9 respectively), so they weren’t part of the mnemonic dialing system of the olden days, along with a lot of other opening combinations which really didn’t have a logical word to correspond to them like 57. Though of course, I expect to be proven wrong on that. 😉
Why is it that we’re not using the 1 as much as we were before? Simple – the advent of digital phones. The first time I experienced not having to dial the 1 was when I was at my last job when my boss pointed out to me that I didn’t need to dial the 1 to get access to the main phone system out of the office and out of the area. Then, we move a few years into the future and we get the digital phone activated at home, and I try dialing without the leading zero, and voila, it works perfectly. 🙂
I know that you can’t repurpose the first number of the 11 in the dialing sequence (i.e. the 1) because of the people who dial into the country from overseas and kind of need that number to make sure that their call gets to here instead of winding up somewhere in Africa or Asia, but I do wonder if it is possible to consider a way to use that almost new opening for another digit to be added to phone numbers, which should alleviate the problem of reducing available phone numbers and constant expansion and contraction of area codes.