Ben is the most technologically savvy guy I know. Yet when I mentioned the city’s imminent telephone changes—starting this Saturday, every time you make a local call you’ll need to dial 1 plus the area code, even when calling from one 212 number to another—his face fell. “All my speed-dial numbers need to be reprogrammed,” he groaned. “And the fax machine—I musta thrown out that instruction manual years ago.”
The Iron Law of Modern Technology—that every time-saving innovation ends up reclaiming some of that “saved” time—has once again been proved Einstein-accurate. To get around the fiber-optic gridlock caused by cell phones and the Internet, Verizon has chosen to institute an “overlay,” the vaguely salacious-sounding term for forcing everyone to dial 1-212. And while the impending hassle pales in comparison to the telephonic travails that Rock Hudson and Doris Day endured in Pillow Talk, it’s still pretty annoying: Rigorous experiments in New York’s telecommunications lab reveal that pushing four more buttons adds an average of 2.73 seconds to each dialing event. The average office worker, making 35.3 calls, will waste 1.61 minutes per day. Think that’s petty? By how many seconds did you miss the express train home last night?
What’s far worse, however, are the painful emotional consequences, particularly for those who take serious pride of place in their phone number. This is another small but inexorable step in the insidious leveling process that is reducing Manhattan to just another borough. It was bad enough when those 718 T-shirts appeared, a clever assertion of Brooklyn hip. But if this trend keeps up, a reservation at Embers in Bay Ridge will soon carry as much snob weight as one at JoJo (and Embers already has better prime rib).
Oh, sure, 212 will retain some status. The cachet-obsessed who are stuck with the arriviste 646 (Tina Brown’s office! Julian Schnabel!) remain embarrassed. But come next week, there will be a little less swagger when giving someone your number and consciously not specifying 212. Whether you inherited on Park or were subsidized on St. Marks, 212 was a mark of distinction that didn’t require Jack Grubman–level venality to obtain—a very democratic eliteness. Now that notion is as antiquated as TRafalgar 4.