So we changed internet providers this month, as Centurylink has strung fiber through the neighborhood and began offering killer deals in competition with Comcast. Collateral damage in the process: our landline phone number, which we first acquired from Pacific Northwest Bell in 1975.
We could have included it in our package, but for the last 5 years or so, we’ve just used it as a sponge to absorb solicitor calls, almost never actually answering. We’ve switched all our important communication to our cell numbers.
One problem with this might be that more solicitor calls start raining down on our cell numbers, but I might just ameliorate that by continuing to cite the old landline number when whoring around the internet.
But my larger angst about losing that phone number is its historical and sentimental significance. The first thing to come to mind is the physical, sort of bricks-and-mortar history. The number first took up residence in a yellow rotary-dial phone which we rented from PNB, and resided there until the early 80s, when I needed touch-tone capability in order to use a 1200-baud modem to support clients and tap into the nascent Internet. This required dumping the rotary-dial in favor of a touch-tone model (still rented from PNB) and upgrading our line service to “digital”.
Eventually, in the late 80s, we quit renting from PNB and acquired a cordless model. We also, owing to the burgeoning demand for bandwidth from a) our son’s internet and bulletin board participation and b) my increasing requirement to do online software support, signed on for a second landline and phone number. In theory, this should have resolved our bandwidth competition, except that our son took to signing on to bulletin boards with one of our lines whilst engaging in long-term voice communication on the other line with the same person he was engaging on the bulletin board. Broadband internet couldn’t have found our house soon enough (and eventually did.)
But that’s just the bricks-and-mortar story. My nostalgia for the phone number I’m forfeiting is more cerebral and perhaps emotional. So many significant life events pulsed through the copper wire that struck the northwest corner of our house and found its way inside to a prosaic, non-ringtone, ring, especially because the bulk of our families lived in the midwest:
- so many Christmases, New Year’s, birthday greetings
- celebrating Buckeye victories, and lamenting Buckeye losses
- the death of our wedding’s best man. I still remember my grandmother delivering the news, while the aroma of fresh-cut sweet peas wafted through the room
- calling to tell my parents, and then my grandparents of our son’s arrival. Anecdote: Both my grandfather and father were named Philip, as was I, and when I conveyed our son’s (non-Philip) name to my grandmother, the venerable phone line was silent for quite a few ticks
- the deaths of my grandparents in the mid-80s, and my last conversation with my grandmother before the surgery that she didn’t survive
- the wonder of making a phone call and having a pizza arrive at my door
- conversations of our son’s that we were not privy to, but were likely fraught with love, growth, deception, friendship, devastation, redemption
- job acceptances, and rejections
- the nurturing of those first clumsy, inexpert, messy flirtations with the internet and cybercommunication
This event feels a little like losing a family member, a little like physically changing residence and a little like quietly abandoning a friendship that was vital for so much of my life but whose usefulness and relevance has severely dissipated in the last 5 years. I can still hear clearly the tone and timbre of dear people long dead that this antiquated technology delivered to my ears, and sometimes wonder if, listening really intently, I could detect snippets of those conversations in overtones ricocheting around the copper alloy. But I’m entering the season of letting things go, and I’m sure this will prove to be one of the least painful.