Ruled by numbers, dreaded numbers
Aspen, CO Colorado
Bored on a high school field trip, some friends and I entertained ourselves on the bus by memorizing our social security numbers. This was at a time when our phone numbers were four digits long–the prefix, Boonton-8, being unspoken by us and understood by the operator–so memorizing a nine-digit social security number was comparatively major.
I never forgot mine, which came in handy on more than one occasion over the years, but there my number memory ceased.
When I came to Aspen, I held my advertising clients’ phone numbers in my head by turning the last four digits into words: KEEN for Explore Book Sellers, a KEEN bookstore, for instance.
The Miner’s Building, 5550, I thought of as the first four note of Beethoven’s Fifth (dah dah dah DAH). My own was and is STEW.
The 925 prefix was as understood as Boonton-8, because everyone in Aspen was 925 (from WALnut 5). If you were calling Basalt it was 927, Carbondale 963, and Glenwood Springs 945. You had to dial the prefixes by then but you didn’t have to remember them.
Gradually all hell broke loose in the numbers department. 920 was added to the Aspen prefix and, for a while, when asked one’s phone number, the reply of the four last digits was a tacit implication that one’s prefix was 925, otherwise one would have to admit to being a 920. This did not fly for long.
On came 544, followed rapidly by 429, 300 and a raft of cell phone numbers as well as ever-changing area codes
In the midst of these transitions came the five-digit ZIP code, for which there are no mneumonic devices to help remember them, and average citizens who used to know their friends’ and family’s phone numbers and addresses were forced to rely upon address books.
I couldn’t tell you a single number of my driver’s license or credit card. Numbers are numbers, random and making no sense to me.
At The Aspen Times, we are so computerized we sizzle. No more clackety typewriters or the Rube Goldberg contraption to make mimeograph plates for the addresses of new subscribers, a machine so old that most of the letters had worn off the keyboard.
We are modern, we are number-oriented. Our advertisers are identified by seven-digit numbers. Every ad in the paper has a number”these started out as four-digit numbers, but we’re tied into all the newspapers that Swift owns, so in less than a year into the new computer system those numbers are now in the millions, impossible to hold in your head when referencing them to the production department in Gypsum, so you have to write them down on the paper that the computer is supposed to circumvent.
The new kids think nothing of this. Numbers are as memorable as words, just another language.
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