As I did before with domains, I am now going to pick on on something even more “useless” (at least in my distorted utopian vision of the world): telephone numbers. Why do we still need them?

Without going into details, let me just give a few key points of how this concept evolved (all the following documented from Wikipedia):
– The idea of a telephone number came around at the end of the 19th century to make training new operators easier (instead of having to learn all the specifics for a certain area, they would just refer to a set of numbers)
– in the 1920s, mechanical direct-dialing starting becoming the norm instead of using operators
Random fun fact: (in case you are wondering why pay-phones are usually assigned numbers with 8 and 9, it’s because such numbers would take a lot longer to dial on rotary dials, so telephone companies assigned such numbers to pay-phones which weren’t being called very often)
– in the 1960s push-button telephones started being made, slowly taking over the rotary dial ones
– since the 1980s, switches started being almost exclusively digital
– 1983, Motorola releases the first commercially available mobile phone
– around 2004, VoIP really starts catching on

Here we are, almost in 2011, still using the same technology that was invented over 100 years ago. Of course, when the idea of phone numbers came around, they were about 3 digits long. Right now, international phone numbers can be as long as 12 digits.

Also, how much do we really need the numbers themselves anymore? We live in a digital world right now! My smartphone is “better” than several of my first computers, but it still needs to call using the same old number system? Wait, what?! Why?

We use IPs in a way similar to phone numbers, but the regular Internet user has never seen an IP in his life and has no idea what that is. He doesn’t know his friends’ IPs, nor does he need to. Why does he need to remember telephone numbers though? Why can’t he just call “Alex”?

The silliest argument I’ve heard is that phone numbers somehow ensure privacy. Err… riiiight.
You can set anything in a digital system – just look at Google Voice to get an idea. You could only allow your friends to call you. You could set filters based on hour. Any type of control you would want, it would work. If a “friend” makes a practical joke and writes your phone number on a bathroom door in a club, that whole “privacy” argument of yours collapses. But with a digital system, you can still choose to block anyone you don’t know. We could have a “friend” system where only people you know can call you and “strangers” maybe could only leave a message.

Some will say that any modern phone has a phone book so you don’t need to actually remember numbers, but I will answer that this is just masking the “problem” instead of dealing with it. We shouldn’t need phone numbers, people shouldn’t be exchanging them anymore or even bothering with their existence, we should go digital! Let’s have a direct, easy-to-use-and-remember system. How about a unique ID for emails, calls etc.? Wouldn’t that be cool?

Imagine that every terminal you use, whether it’s your portable one (read: cell phone), your home computer, your office laptop or anything else, all of these offered full functionality: enter the name/nickname/alias of the person you want to get in contact with and then be given a list of options: email, IM, voice call, video call. Then the call goes through, digitally, no numbers, and the receiver gets it at the other end on whatever terminal is convenient to him at the moment. Essentially, my suggestion is bringing together smartphones, Skype, Google Voice, IM, E-mail, doing it all through the Internet, and throwing away the old phone system. If someone wants to add an universal ID in there also and while we’re at it combine this with the mailing system as well, that is just fiiiiine by me.

Soooo… what are we waiting for? Let’s get to work!