If for some reason, every number in my long list of messy contacts were to inexplicably disappear, I would be totally out of luck. Aside from my own cell phone numbers (which I admittedly forget sometimes), I can count the telephone numbers I know by heart on one hand. Of those, three are ones I've been dialing since I was a kid – both my grandparents' numbers and my dad's land line.
The other two are my mother's numbers. I only know her cell phone number because it's the login to our shared Verizon account – she had it changed a few years back and I never would have remembered the new one otherwise. And I only know the land line number because it's the password to the wireless network at her house.
Outside of those select few, I don't know anyone else's number by heart. I may recognize the sequence of numbers and, if I'm lucky, I may be able to link those to a face and name. But if my life or well being ever depended on me getting in touch with someone outside of my immediate family without the aid of my ever-growing address book, I would likely find myself in a body bag.
And I'm not the only one. Tonight, I asked my girlfriend if she knew my (primary) number and she failed miserably. In her words, she succeeded with flying colors (sure, after about 70 incorrect guesses). But that's okay because I don't know her number either.
For years now, many have been saying the current number system is outdated, that since calling is no longer the main communication method for most numbers should be replaced with something more relevant, relatable and memorable. For most, a short name – like my personal Twitter handle CasperTek – is easier to remember than a random, 10-digit number. Even though the Twitter username, at nine letters, is almost as long as a standard 10-digit number, it's easier to remember because it's pronounceable, you can remember it phonetically.
This morning, Sprint initiated phase one of the death of the old number system – or so we hope. Partnering with Zoove, a company that offers once offered vanity numbers only to businesses, the service is called StarStar Me, which allows customers to link up to two vanity lines to their existing number for $2.99 per month per vanity number. For example, I could pay $5.98 per month to have people call **TAYLOR (**829567) or **CASPERTEK (**227737835) instead of dialing my actual number. The user can also use the Android app (or forthcoming iOS app) to set automatic text replies to calls or block specific numbers. From Sprint:
"StarStar Me allows consumers to choose a name, nickname or unique word in place of their mobile phone number – then people can call them on their mobile phone by simply tapping the star key twice on the phone’s keypad, followed by the name, nickname, or unique word they chose, using keypad letters or characters. StarStar Me also offers users the ability to automatically respond to calls with a custom text message when they're busy, as well as a unique way to share links to their blog, website or social media accounts."
Sure, if I put my mind to it, I could remember more numbers. Like Aaron, I have a knack for remembering numbers through an unusual memory pattern my mother taught me when I was younger. But I'm with everyone who says it's time to lay the archaic 10-digit system to rest. And StarStar Me (while I absolutely hate the name) is a great start.
That said, I have some concerns. For one, people, in general, can't spell. And names often have quite a bit on ambiguity in their spelling. (Nobody can ever seem to spell my girlfriend's name right. It's Caitlynn – two Ns.) This could cause quite the confusion when placing calls to people with names or nicknames with nontraditional spelling, which might lead to even more calls to and from wrong numbers.
My other reservation is how quickly the vanity names will run out. There is a nine-character limit after the double asterisks. The possible vanity numbers are words created out of the standard 0-9 dial pad, which correlate with letters printed on those digits (i.e.: 2 equals A, B or C; 3 equals D, E or F etc.). Think back to those trusty ol' T9 keypads. By the standard, there are no letters that correlate to the 1 and 0 buttons, which means there are 134,217,728 different possible combinations of numbers.
Sure, 134 million combinations seems like a lot. But for a little contrast, there would be 5.4 trillion possible combinations if the 9-character combinations were made using only letters, not numbers that correlate to small groups of letters. Unfortunately, solely letters wouldn't work. Unless the letters translate to a number somehow, people with a basic phone or land line wouldn't be able to call anyone with a StarStar Me number. In other words, we are tragically nailed to the 0-9 numeric system and will be for the foreseeable future.
The real question is: how many of those 134 million possibilities are actually vanity numbers? For example, **CARL (**2275) is actually the same number as **BARK (**2275). And **2222222 could be AAAAAAAA, BAAAAAA, ABACABB (that's the Mortal Kombat blood code and the name of a band, for those unaware) or any combination of nine As, Bs and/or Cs. There is a point where people will be forced to use words and letter combinations that don't use standard spelling – the same problem we all run into with trying to find an online username that isn't already taken. People will eventually resort to using **John34592, **Taylor493 or **OMGTAYLOR. At that point, a vanity number isn't really any easier to remember than a 10-digit number. Or it's just as easy to add someone's number to your contact list and forget about it.
Once all the cream of the crop numbers are taken, Zoove – or whatever revolutionary startup comes along next – will have to devise another system for vanity numbers.
Still, StarStar Me is pretty intriguing. And if I were on Sprint, I would most definitely take **CASPERTEK. For $2.99 per month, it's a great deal, especially if you're always giving your number out and need one that's easily remembered. I guess the eventual flaw of this method will be a problem Zoove and Sprint take on in due time. Until then, grab your StarStar Me number for it gets gone!
What say you, folks? Are you interested in your own vanity line? Would you pay $2.99 for one? Or do you think it's more logical to just add contacts and their numbers and forget about the numbers altogether? NFC is making transferring contact information easier than ever …