Whither the Area Code?

For the last two years, I've been using a cell phone that I hand-picked from the multitudes strictly for its comic tinyness. Nearly everyone who's gotten a look at it has remarked on its size, up to and including the girl who sold me its replacement. People ask how I manage to talk with it held up to my ear, or type on the itty-bitty keys. I can fit the entire thing in my mouth. The aforementioned replacement arrived last Saturday. Without getting into too much detail, I will say that it is a phone that is full of fance and also indexes high on the schmance scale. It is an integrated device, the pinnacle of modern convergence. The instant I got home, the phone demanded I make it pancakes. It also shoots lasers — ptew ptew!

Anyway, the jump from Phone of Tinyness to Phone of Fance & Schmance meant that I couldn't just port over my SIM card. (In case you've never dealt with one, the SIM card is the half-inch piece of plastic under your cell phone's battery that contains your phone number and broadcasts your thoughts to the NSA.) I had to browse through the old phone and type all of my contact numbers into the new one. While doing so, I noticed three things.

First of all, if you gave me your number within the last five years, I have no idea what it is. Numbers go into the phone and that's that. Second of all, I apparently befriended someone named "Laura" at some point. And third is the reason I brought this whole thing up.

Have we outgrown the area code?

Among my contacts, I counted nearly a dozen people who had moved to another city, but kept their cell phone number. That used to bug the crap out of me back when I was on a landline, and was paying to call San Francisco every time I needed to ask my roommate why the cat was in the freezer again. (That's right Bob, you monster, I'm talking to you.) But I ditched my landline the instant I got a cell phone, and haven't cared since. About the long distance charges, not the cat. The cat's fine. (No thanks to Bob.)

The thing is, when you're on a cell phone, the area code is just three more numbers to dial. You don't give them a moment's thought. They're no different from the "exchange," the three-digit prefix. You just dial them and move on. Hell, a number's exchange is also based on location, but who even knows that anymore? People are cutting their landlines by the million, and every curly cord lost is another area code set free to wander the land. They dot faraway cities like out-of-town baseball caps. That may well be the area code's final legacy, to serve as a badge for the transplant's displaced sense of local pride. "512? I didn't know you were from Austin. Ever eat at Kerbey Lane?"

The area code's fade to black, of course, will not happen overnight. It will be as long and lingering a death as anything we have seen in a made-for-Lifetime movie. More and more will drift out of their orbits, until eventually it will seem as though someone shook a snowglobe. They won't be area codes anymore. They'll just be codes.

But I'll say this much, I intend to keep mine as long as I can. Decades from now, when I've made my fortune and retired to the countryside, I'll fill out my phone number on some form, and the clerk will think to himself — Hey look, 718. But hang on, did he live in Brooklyn or Queens ... ?