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Phone Numbers - Road to Extinction

Every now and then a questions pops up in my mind – Why do I have to dial a 10 digit number to talk to someone – even knowing that the someone is a person, who I see every day or talk to them on a daily basis? Why dial a 10 digit number to talk to someone on the other line and then punch 10 more digits to get to a person’s extension? I would take this discussion further and ask – Why do we need phone numbers to communicate?


That is big!  phone numbers for as long as I remember is how we know to communicate. With the advent of mobile phones, the numbers has doubled and with the rising global population getting on to mobile, we are soon going to be faced with a problem that was faced by IPv6 last week. We are getting closer when the 10 digit phone number would soon be exhausted. The talks for 11 digit numbering system will rise from the preliminary talks and heat to the finalization stage.  I am sure that our “able” lawmakers and politicians alike will come with a 1000 page fool-proof plan and pass the law to change the numbering system. Keep in mind – that it is a huge investment to change the numbers.  As I think about the inevitable, my common sense tells me to take a step back and ask a simple question – In this day and age of communication, is the phone number the right approach to communicate? The more I think about it – the more I see that there is no easy answer – but I do know one thing, that there are alternatives if the steps are taken in that direction to completely alienate the misconception that a phone number is needed to make a call and communicate.

It’s how you put it

Don’t misconstrue that I am saying that phone numbers will be dead within 5 years. People love to talk and they’ll continue to talk in a fun loving way. If you read my previous paragraph, I am careful to ask the question – Is the phone number needed to communicate. I am pretty clear that we do need to communicate, but my question is in the method we communicate. Over the past 4 years, technology has single handedly changed the way we communicate. Social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook, Skype, Google Talk, Google Voice and LinkedIn had a huge impact on making this a networked world. The mobile platform from Apple, Google, Samsung and HTC has accelerated the growth of social networking sites and today, we clearly see the impact on our daily lives. Google Talk, Google Voice and Skype combined have a user base or almost a billion people. Facebook is the biggest of them all – with close to 700 million users and counting 15 million new members a month. Apple recently unveiled iMessage for its iOS user base to communicate. This feature is similar to Blackberry Messenger service, which is used and loved by a lot of Blackberry users.

Where is this heading to?

Today, I want to call my friend. I know his face, I know his email address, I know he is in my LinkedIn Profile – yet I cannot have a voice conversation with him as I don’t have his number. This is a simple example, that many of us are faced on a day to day life. Why can’t I select his profile from LinkedIn and call him – without knowing the 10 digit number?
Today a phone number is tied to a device. So you have one cell-phone number and one home number and you end up getting sucked in to double play and triple play from Satellite companies and Carrier companies. On the cell phone side, it baffles me that a SMS is tied to a device. I cannot access my SMS from web or any other device I own. The only way I can access my SMS is via cell phone that the number is tied to! That is insane!
The other thing that gets me is that there is only one way to call your contact – your device. Why? Why can’t I dial a contact from my computer if I am on my machine and use VOIP to save my minutes?

The answer to all this is that we are tied to a phone number and the phone number is tied to a device.

 I get a phone book every 6 months for the area that I am in. It’s almost 1000 pages book, which I never use it. There are numbers of people which I don’t know and probably will never know or talk to them – yet every year we shed trees, burn print cartridges, have a huge legislation for do-not-call list and spent millions of dollars revisiting the law. I am not sure if we are heading in the right direction with the phone number.

What I want is a way to communicate with my contact list – where an identified profile is the key to everything. I want to take charge of my own profile and my own contact list which I control. If I say, this contact list from the listed services is my social and work life, then that is all I want to know and control. Today on the web, OpenID is taking the charge with OAuth authorization. Tomorrow, it can be identified profiles from services like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. Slowly but surely matured services will integrate and make it a cohesive network for people to communicate and as most contacts reside on these services, we can have total control over who can call us and who cannot, just as we do with photo and video sharing services today. As more companies, big and small move to social networks, we will see less and less use of phone numbers.

I am a big proponent of change. Change can be evolutionary or revolutionary. It is time to think revolutionary. It will take half a decade or even a decade for this sea change, but I think it will be better way to a networked world that you feel comfortable with. How hopeful I am with this sea change? I am overly optimistic on things. I am pretty hopeful that my grandkids will laugh at us when we tell them that we used phone numbers to communicate!


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