Richard Hyatt: Goodbye to 706

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerNovember 14, 2013 

Where's Sarah when we need her? All Andy and Barney had to do was ring up Mayberry's unseen operator, and she would put them in touch with Mount Pilot or Raleigh.

In our world, phones are smarter than Goober, and people rely on Siri instead of Sarah, and more and more we find that our neighbor's area code is 762 rather than 706.

The North American Number Planning Association, an agency that governs our phone numbers, is dictating that change after declaring we've exhausted our available prefixes and that no future phone numbers will be assigned that area code.

We've been in the 706 area code since 1992, when we gave up our former 404 designation, as did people in Augusta, Athens and other parts of north Georgia. The 762 area code was quietly added in 2008, but only recently did NANPA declare we were out of prefixes.

Some people are devastated too.

"There are people who love their area code. They identify with it," said John Manning, a NANPA official. "But none of the changes of area code draws as much attention as when we added 10-digit dialing."

The area code that shows up on caller ID means less and less. It used to show us where a person lived, but that's no longer true. People take their cellphone numbers with them when they move, so the area code is only numbers on the screen.

Area codes went into effect in 1947, but customers did not have to dial the numbers to make a long distance call until 1951, when there were only 86 codes in the United States. The entire state of Georgia was in 404 until 1954, when 912 was added. Everyone in Alabama was in 205 until 1995.

Ways we make a call have changed dramatically. Long ago, our home number had only six digits. For a while we were on a party line and had to listen carefully to see if that was our ring. When digital sets and cordless phones came along, everything was easier.

But cellular service has forever changed the way we think of our phones and the way we use them.

I call my wife several times a day, but don't ask me what her number is.

She's on my favorites' list, so I don't need to know it. (But if you want to know my phone number when I was in high school it was Plaza 3-6696.)

Manning says we won't exhaust the numbers in the 762 area code for 25 years. That is probably mathematically accurate, but technology could change that forecast overnight.

Twenty-five years ago, we couldn't imagine that we would consider having our cellphone surgically attached to our hand.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent who lives in the 706 area code.

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