Phone Numbers, Yea, We Should Definitely Be Past Them

You hear it as if it were a problem with how we live today: "I can’t remember any phone numbers any more. I just put them in my mobile, type the name when needed and send the message/call them." And there’s something really understated here that we are probably not paying enough attention to, phone numbers are a really crappy way of connecting to someone when you know their name.

I had this idea some time ago, and I know that I wasn’t the first with the idea. But, at the time, it really felt like a novel idea. This is a snippet of what I posted at the (now archived) Symbian Ideas website, titled Redefining the Behavior of Communication:

Currently, when we want to call someone, we navigate to a contact, then click the call button. Similar action happens when we want to SMS them. For IM we go to another app, but its usually the same type of behavior, find name, start IM. I propose that Symbian would do away with all of those vectors and have a contacts system that acts like this:

  • Contact exists in the address book with a name, IM service, email address, and mobile number
  • Because the IM service supports presence, location, and status, at a glance in the Social Object (Contact+more) View shows this status and a rough location (if published)
  • User clicks Send/Call button and then..

If the contact has set their status to away, SMS is chosen first as the method to communicateIf the Contact has set their status to “Voice Access only” then a voice call is initiatedIf the Contact has set their status to busy, the option to send an IM or an email is given

If you will, instead of the person trying to figure out what type of communication works best, the person on the other end sets the rule, and then the initiator’s device “respects” that rule and by chooses the best communication method.

To this end, here’s where I agreed with a recent article talking about how silly it is that we are even using phone numbers. There shouldn’t be any reason, given the technology, behaviors, and psychologies behind why we want to communicate that we should be sticking with such an antiquated system. And yes, I do understand that to move away from phone numbers to something like this means that we are embedding more trust into a fallable network intelligence system (and the people/governments which maintain them), but isn’t it time that we at least consider that there should be something better than trying to remember a series of numbers whenever we want to talk to someone.

Just the other day, a friend of mine’s wife texted group-texted that she and her husband would be getting new mobiles and would need for friends/family to message them phone numbers and emails since it would be impossible for them to migrate that data from their old devices to the new one. Ignoring the silliness of the fact that there are still mobiles being sold in which carriers can’t do such syncing, it illustrated a better point, why should they have to have a number. The carrier/phone company has the entirity of call records for both she and her husband, why isn’t there some kind of OTT (over the top) serivce offering where you can remap phone numbers with a preferred name, and instead of seeing a phone number on your bill, you see that name. Much like the above linked article talked about phone numbers needing a DNS system, this would be the CNAME component of that effect.

I keep saying that we are not moving forward at all with this tech if all we do is simply repeat the same behaviors with shiny buttons. No one with a smartphone should have to remember a phone number, or even wonder what the weather would be, these are elementary features of what should be smarter devices. For one reason or another, we aren’t there, and its not just an issue of an industry (mobile and telecoms) being held back, all of us are.

Now, I’m online a ton. And I’ve got many associates online who are online a ton more than I. Some of them are willing to try out every new service that pops up, whether or not its something that adds definitive value to them "living life." I’m not one of those guys. I read the terms of service, I read disclaimers, and I pay attention to who it is exactly making noise about whatever new service or feature there is. So, when there are situations such as what’s happened with the social network Path (uploading address books to their servers without users giving permission to do so), these folks have only themselves to blame – as well as the folks who run Path for engaging in quite deceptive and untrustworthy practices.

If sense was common, we’d all be doing well for figuring out why this happened. But, its not. And we have another example of how when people chase after non-essential tech, that the old stuff which should have long been fixed, remains the noose that hangs us all.

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