Phone numbers

Is it me, or is this business about wanting your mobile number to be ex-directory just a little bit strange? On the one hand we argue for transparency in this, that and the other – for freedom of information – and on the other hand, we see it as a civil liberty infringement if anyone tries to keep our names and numbers, including telephone numbers, on a database.

Of course, even I can see the broad fallacy in this argument, which mixes up the idea of a government being accountable with personal liberty. But I think the two – see them as a Venn diagram – overlap when it comes to phone numbers. It is actually quite useful to be able to find out someone’s phone number. Twenty years ago, you just went to the phone book, and almost everyone was in it unless they were on victim support or were members of MI5. You just ran your finger down the numbers, and dialled the person. Now we are obsessively concealing ourselves, and this too, in a society which is ironically obsessed with phoning and texting itself. (Equally strange is the proliferation of 118 numbers – 118500, 118247, 118118 and God help me, I will hurl a brick through the TV screen if I see the ad for the latter again – which charge you an arm, a leg and a lung to find out what you can get for nothing by going on bt.com.)

I suppose you could say we were hiding from junk mail and junk phone calls, which seems a bit of a pathetic response, even if the newer ones are automated and you can’t shout back at their perfectly modulated voices. (I would love to know what the stats are on the effectiveness of these.) But all this ‘Help, panic, someone will know my mobile number!’ – I just don’t get it. It means, deep down, that there is a fear that someone we don’t know will give us a call. So that’s an end, then, to calls out of the blue from old friends. Not of course that this will stop anyone who really wants to find you – there are umpteen services on the web which will give you the serial numbers of your fridge if you ask them nicely and cough up some money.

On balance, I’d rather not be a secret. I would quite like it if someone phoned me up and said Hello when I was least expecting it. And what’s more, it has happened. But then I suppose I am trying to make everyone in my own image, that’s the problem.

I wonder what my Tasmanian philosopher friend would make of all this. It seems to me a bigger issue than whether sandwiches multiply or otherwise (see earlier blogpost). Rationally, I think that the huge surge of emails I received about blocking my mobile before Armageddon arrived, which did take place, the surge not Armageddon, was actually quite irrational. It’s bad enough that there are competing telephone networks, never mind no way of contacting people with mobiles.

I think we should bring back the operator, too.

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One Response to Phone numbers

  1. The Tasmanian philosopher says:

    Well, Bill, I have to declare that I don’t have a mobile phone, so I haven’t really thought about this one. It has seemed strange to me that you can’t find someone’s mobile phone number like you can their landline, by looking in a book (or online). And it is hard to see the distinction between the two.

    So, broadly, I agree with you. I can see why someone might go ex-directory, but I would have thought the default position should be that you are listed. I, too, like the unexpected but welcome call, even if the price we pay is some aural spam.

    In any case, I prefer email to phones. And it usually isn’t hard to dig up someone’s email if you look.

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