Human beings, I believe, are losing a skill. It’s not a particularly important skill, but it is one that we developed as result of an old technology, and one that we are losing as a result of a new technology. We are losing the ability to remember telephone numbers.

Nearly 40 years on, my parents’ first number is indelibly etched in my brain (42324, although I’m sure its palindromic symmetry helps). I struggle to remember my home number, my wife’s mobile, my work number, my parents’ current number… And quite frankly, I don’t have to, because phones these days are smart and allow me to focus on the much more human-intuitive identifier of a person’s name if I want to speak to them.

All of which makes the way in which telephone numbers are presented these days extremely confusing. In the UK we’ve for years been led to believe that a phone number has an area code (which begins with a zero) and then a number. In London, for example, 020. Except that in London loads of people think the area codes are 0208 or 0207, depending on where you are, because of a botched job of communicating the changes that happened when the capital moved from 0181 and 0171 numbers back in 2000.

But there again, our area codes don’t actually begin with a zero – zero is what you dial to get a “trunk” line, then the area code is actually something like “20” (for London – not 208 or 207 – are you following this?). Unless of course it’s an 08 or 07 number which are “non-geographic dialling codes” for mobile phones and low (or high) cost service lines (unless you’re calling from a mobile phone, when they’re generally just high cost). And now we all live in a global village, we need to understand the international dialing codes, especially if the people we’re communicating with are outside of the UK, in which case it’s +44 for the UK where the “+” means “do whatever it is you have to do to dial an international number” which on an old fashioned land line in the UK is press “00” but on a mobile phone is just “+”.

And as a result of all of that, loads of people these days write their number in the email signatures and the like as “+44 (0)20 1234 5678” which is there to show the human being reading it a number that doesn’t actually work at all. And, because the (0) is sitting there, phones and computers can’t make any use of it either. I can’t click on it, I can’t copy and paste it.

I know that there are probably more important things in the world to get annoyed about, but sometimes it’s those little annoyances that can make a good day average and a bad day terrible. So I urge you, now; check your own email signatures – and if that zero is sitting there in its brackets, please remove it. For my sanity if no-one else’s.

One thought on “Machine-unreadable

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