Of course, area codes (the new, new "exchanges" of years past) have been changing for some time now. With phone number portability, geography and area codes no longer go together. While moving once meant new area codes, people now take their area codes with them like little memories of where they've been. There are people who've lived in New York for years who have 202 area codes, people in L.A. with 917s. The Wire's Rebecca Greenfield has a 716 number (Buffalo, where she lived in high school), even though she lives in New York now and used to live in D.C. It doesn't indicate her geography, but it means something to her. As she says, "I would be sad if I had to change my number for some reason."
On the other side of that coin are the stories I've heard for years about folks buying up all the 212s or 917s they could find, because they think those numbers are something special. There is a glut of people selling 212 SIM cards on eBay. We still somehow think the area code is important just as the area code grows less and less connected to a geographical current reality. Why, really, should any of us care about area codes at all? It is rare for people to have landlines, and so, most of us don't have 212 numbers. Even my office phone is a 646. It matters little to me, but when I suggested declaring the status area code dead, my Wire coworkers were incensed. "It's not," said one. "917 forever." "Carrie Bradshaw is forever," said another.
Well, it's easy to defend our favorite area codes, because we have nothing to lose but those digits themselves. While deep in many of our hearts lie our area codes, and the stories we associate with them, that nostalgic feeling must be tempered some by the reality that they don't always indicate much about our present. Whomever you're reaching out to by phone can't actually trust your area code to reveal much about you, other than that that's your area code. You may or may not live in that place; you may have lived there once; you may have simply purchased your phone there, on a whim.
Further distancing us from the status of the code is that often we don't even know each others' area codes, just the way we don't really know even our closest friends' phone numbers either, because those numbers have been saved handily by our phones and we don't have to have them committed to memory. Once you program someone into your phone, you rarely give that phone number a second look. The only way an area code makes an impression on you, really, is if it's the first time that person is calling you, and you don't recognize the number at all, and then, to top it off, it begins with an 813 (Tampa!) or a 234 (Akron!). Who in the world, and why?
Maybe it's not a full-blown status code, but simply a first-impression code. You want to seem like you're from New York? You should probably dress like a New Yorker, and that includes your phone. A certain area code might mean that you've been a local longer than others, and that means something to people, too, especially in a city where transplants may be regarded with skepticism. As NYU Local editor Myles Tanzer (718) told me, "Apologies for being a total millennial, but I can't picture a situation where area code discussion would come up. I don't know anyone who has a home phone line. I do love having a 718 cell phone number, though, because it gives proof that I grew up in New York."