Dialing daze

Perhaps Doris Day captured the feeling best in the film Move Over Darling (1963). After being stranded on an island for five years, her character, Ellen Wagstaff Arden, has been rescued by the U.S. Navy and the first thing she wants to do is call her family to tell them she is alive.

What she doesn't know is that, among many other changes, the protocol for making phone calls is different than it was five years before.

Ellen: "I'd like to call my family, where's the nearest phone. ... does anybody have a nickel?"

Sailor: "Phone calls are a dime now. ... Stamps are a nickel."

Attempting to make a call, she now gets a recording telling her that she has dialed an incorrect number. Not realizing it's recorded, she asks the operator to call CRestview 54699.

Ellen (talking to the recording): "This is the correct number, It's always been our number. I know it's the correct number because for the past eight years we have had the same number."

Finally realizing it's a recording, she hangs up and dials the operator, asking for CRestview 54699. She is informed that the number is now: 275-4699.

Operator: "You may dial 275-4699 direct. The area code is 213."

Ellen (looking for an explanation): "What's the area code?"

Operator: "213. You may dial 275-4699 by first dialing 213."

Confusion ensues -- Ellen has never heard of an area code before, and never had to remember so many numbers at once, just to get a call through.

Sailor: "We can drive you home a lot faster than you can get that call through."

We laugh about something like that nowadays. These numbers are commonplace. Or are they? That same situation might happen to a few of us starting Saturday, believe it or not. (Well, maybe not with the quaint neighborhood reference -- that charming way of dialing is well behind us.)

Starting tomorrow, Connecticut's mandatory area code dialing policy begins. This means that no matter where you call -- your next-door neighbor or your cousin in San Diego -- you need to dial the area code first. For local calls, you do not need to dial the "1" before dialing the area code; for long-distance calls, you still need to dial a "1."

The reasoning for this is that starting Dec. 12, anyone getting a new phone number will also receive a new area code: those in the current 203 area will get a 475 area code. Those in the 860 area will get a 959 area code.

In the age of cell pones, the capacity for remembering phone numbers is quickly dwindling. Numbers are all neatly stored in our cell phones and accessible at the touch of a button. Cell phones do the dialing for us now (just remember to keep a hard copy of your contacts somewhere--we're still testing the limits of back-up capability there).

Ask anyone under the age of 30 how many phone numbers they know by heart, and they'll likely be able to remember their parents' landline number, and that's about it.

People also get new numbers or change numbers all the time now. Three-digit numbers in this area alone have extended beyond 255 and 256. You've got 610s and 209s, 449s and 767s and many, many more. It's hard to keep up, memory-wise.

Some would argue that there's no need to remember numbers anymore, unless you are, of course, using a landline or a payphone (are those still around?). This is probably true -- to a point. What happens when you are stuck without your cell phone and need to call someone in a (relative) emergency? For example, say you lock yourself out of the house and need to use a neighbor's phone to get help. What's your backup then?

The first reaction many of us feel is that this new 10-digit dialing, combined with the new area codes, will be an overwhelming inconvenience, and moderately taxing on the memory -- you have to dial 10 numbers just to call next door? And now we have to remember two new area codes on top of that? But think of how silly seemed that Doris Day couldn't get that call through. She eventually caught on. And so will we. Why? Because we have no choice.

Landlines are dying almost as quickly as payphones began to do 10 years ago. Odds are they'll be obsolete within a few years. So, too, will the need to remember phone numbers.

Emergency and information numbers, like 911 and 411, will remain the same.

Apparently, it would behoove all of us to remember -- at least for now -- that if you want to make a personal call anywhere, you need to dial the area code first. No matter what.

Oh, and if you plan on getting trapped on a desert island for the next five years, remember this when you return and try to call your neighbors to share the good news.