Who memorizes phone numbers anymore?



When children start riding bikes, their world expands considerably. But how do you make sure that that they’ve arrived at their destination safely? ©Adobe Stock

My 8-year old son’s world is rapidly expanding. He’s recently taken to riding his bike down the street to visit a couple of his friends. As a parent, this new stage in Sam’s life fills me with pride, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry every time he pedals away.

Before Sam left for his first big quarter-mile adventure down the road, I told him to call home as soon as he got there (using their house phone). He told me he would, and then asked me to write down the phone number. This surprised me because I couldn’t believe he didn’t know our phone number. When I was a kid (there’s that popular “old” person’s refrain), it seemed like everyone knew their home phone number.

Of course, things are a little different nowadays. My wife and I both have cell phones in addition to the land line. That’s three phones and remembering all those numbers can be confusing for a kid. Then I started thinking. Why was I so surprised he didn’t know our phone number? Nobody knows phone numbers anymore.

Like everyone else, I enter every phone number into my cell phone. In the old days, I would have written a number down on paper or, even more incredibly, memorized it. Now, I don’t even glance at a number. Someone gives it to me, I enter it into the phone, and it shoots out of my head forever. I spend more time looking at the numbers on my grocery bill than at anyone’s phone number.

Why was I so surprised he didn’t know our phone number? Nobody knows phone numbers anymore.

Even the numbers I dial with the land line are difficult for me to remember. Why? Because when we dialed a number in the days of rotary phones, we actually dialed a number. Thhrreeee … twwoo … fourrr … And there was no redial, either. If one of your fingers slipped out of the little hole, you had to hang up and start again. Thhrreeee … twwoo … fourrr …

You do this enough times and you are bound to remember a number. In fact, you’ll probably never forget it. I still remember several of my friend’s phone numbers from when I was a kid. I remember my childhood home phone number and that of my grandparents. When my family joined the YMCA earlier this year, I didn’t have to bother looking up their phone number; I still remembered it from when my mother worked there 35 years ago.

This remarkable long-term memory is one of the surprising aspects of getting older. But I also think there is another reason people my age and older remember those long-ago phone numbers—Thhrreee … twwoo … fourrr … We had to put so much effort into dialing a stupid phone number it became forever etched into our brains. Not so with today’s kids. One push of a button is all it takes.

With that in mind, I figured getting Sam to remember our phone number was hopeless. I want him to become independent, but I also want him to be able to contact us if necessary. Thankfully, my wife came to the rescue (as usual) and dug out some walkie-talkies. They work great—no numbers to remember, and we can say fun things to each other like, “This is the Bandit looking for the Snowman.” I just need to get Sam to press the button before he starts talking.

GARY SPRAGUE is a freelance writer from Maine.


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