What does your area code say about you? Nothing, anymore

Farewell to the value of the area code.

In an age of cellphone contact lists, many people don’t instinctively know the number of the person they’re calling anymore. But there’s another passing of telephone history underway: the telephone number as geographic identifier.

If you see 612 in a phone number, you knew it was Minneapolis. 617? Boston. 212? New York. In fact, back in the Berkshires, we even referred to the New York tourists who gummed up traffic in Stockbridge as 212ers, and not in a nice way.

Those days are over, the Boston Globe says today.

Part of it technology, but part of it is the nomadic culture we’re in. People are moving from state to state, and not giving up their phone numbers.


James Katz, director of emerging media studies at Boston University, likened keeping a number after a move to continuing to root for the Red Sox or Patriots years after leaving Boston.

“It’s a shared identify with people in that geographic region,” he said.

And in a mobile society, retaining a childhood number is a way for transplants to recognize one another.

Kelly Francoeur, a South End hair stylist, had spent several enjoyable appointments discussing “boy drama” with a client, but it wasn’t until the two exchanged phone numbers that they realized they were from the same home state.

“I like when I meet other 860 people,” the 26-year-old ­Revere resident said, explaining that she is still on her family’s plan. “I’m like ‘Connecticut, yeah.’ ”

Even as the area code loses its power to indicate where we live, it’s gaining “signaling abilities,” said Roger Entner.

By the way, if you’re old school, try this area code quiz.

  • Bismuth

    About a year ago I moved from 413 to 412 while not changing my cell number. I expected a lot of odd looks and comments about my phone number, but there’s really only been a handful of times people have said someting.

  • David

    I’m very much in that camp. I’ve had the same number since I was 16, mostly just out of convenience but some out of hometown pride. 507? Psh, 815 (Rockford, IL).

    So basing things off my single sample of one Gen-Y’er, I’d argue that area code might not provide the current location of where someone lives, but it still can (though not always) say something about a person and their roots. Or that they’re lazy.

  • Kassie

    Of course, there is no such thing as long distance either when using cell phones anymore. Do people still pay long distance with landlines? How do phone companies justify that?

    I do miss my college days. If you lived on campus your number was 320-589-6xxx. Off campus you only needed to know the last four. I didn’t know anyone with a cellphone until my last year. I never knew why they needed one, you could just drive around town looking for someone if they weren’t at home. Oh how times have change. (And dear god do I feel old writing this.)

  • Shannon

    True of the U.S., sure, but up here in poor Canada area code is still very much a thing. Cell phone plans here – get this – charge long distance. A lot. If I’m travelling to, say, Montreal, for work I’m going to be paying a lot of long distance because my home is in Calgary. So unlike America where you can carry a 651 your whole life even though you live anywhere else and never be concerned with long distance or roaming, Canadians very much have to be careful.

    And the new thing for the US (and in bigger Canadian cities) is to have a new area code for new cell phone activations. In Calgary it’s 587, the Twin Cities are getting one in 2013 I think. That’s when the area code snobbery can kick in. Like getting a coveted 212 in New York (despite derisive names from Berkshire residents ;), someday getting a 612/651 will be tough, too.

  • Kat S

    Suddenly I am feeling very old. I remember the cognitive dissonance back when I decided to keep my old Midway telephone number on my landline (651 64x-xxxx) when I switched neighborhoods. It was more practical, but it seemed irrationally like I was trying to hide where I lived.

    The idea of having a non-651 area code? ANARCHY. I’ll get over it, I expect, but getting the local plan and cell phone number always seemed to me to be one of those subtle “I live here now” moments like getting Minnesota plates.

  • Shannon

    Ohh, changing plates is an entirely different case. As Alberta doesn’t require a front plate, I’ve kept my MN plates on. If I can’t keep my 651, I’m at least keeping the plate.