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Digital first impressions

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We all know you only get one chance to make a good first impression.  But did you ever think about what kind of digital first impression you make when you give someone your phone number or email address?

It was announced recently that New York City is once again expanding area codes — this time for the outer boroughs and northern Manhattan.  Borough residents will now have to get used to and remember a new, unfamiliar “929” number.  This will be the 6th area code for New York City, following 212, 718, 646, 917, and 347.  It has also been recently announced that we will soon be out of unique phone numbers altogether. Can this be true?  With 310 million people in the U.S. and ten billion number combinations possible, it does allow for 32 phone numbers per person.  Surely there are enough to go around.  But think about it.  I personally have eight phone numbers — two home numbers, a personal cell, a personal fax, a work DID, a work fax, a Google voice, and an SMS only phone number.   And I don’t think I’m done gathering new numbers…

Now I can also tell you I only know three of my numbers by heart — home, cell, and work DID.  The rest I admit I need to look up in my phone. I know I’m not alone in relying on my smartphone to find phone numbers, emails, and mailing addresses.  For many people, especially those not diligent about backing up their phones to their PCs, their biggest fear is losing their cell phone and losing all their contacts.

So how important is our individual phone number or email address?  It is likely now that the cell phone number we have today will be ours for life. But the idea of “owning” our phone numbers is relatively new.  Until about 20 years ago, you could not take your home number (likely the ONLY phone number you had) with you if you moved.  I still remember the 212 phone number I had as a child. (It’s still the primary way I reach my mom, who can’t access the voicemail on her cell phone, but that’s a blog for another day.)  But, I couldn’t tell you the number I had in my last rental apartment in NYC seven years ago, because it’s different than the number I had two blocks south of that apartment ten years ago and even different than the one I had ten blocks uptown before that. At least they were all 212 numbers…

Also keep in mind that it was not long ago that your email provider was directly tied to your ISP. As a techie, I’ve had more email addresses than phone numbers.  My first email address was @aol, then @IBM, then @nyc.rr, then @optonline, and now @gmail. Now I admit, I make a lot of assumptions about a person based on their email address.  For example, when I get an email from anyone with an @aol address, I instantly form an opinion of them.  I assume they are either over 40, or they are technologically in the dark ages. (Could these people still be paying for email?)

What about people who share an email account with their spouse, like Jacknjill@aol.com?  Call me a technological snob, but when I receive an email from an address like this, I assume the senders still have a VCR that they never learned to program, rent DVDs at the local video store, and do not have their emails tied to their smartphones.  Why would I bother answering the message at all, when it could be days until one of the couple logs on to his or her desktop to read my response?  Also, what if my message is for Jack and not for Jill?  How do I even know that Jill will give Jack my message?  She’s probably only checking the answering machine for messages.

The one exception to this pet peeve is the family email account. That would be something like smithfamily@gmail.com. This I like because the email address tells me clearly it’s a family account and setup for the purpose of helping to keep the family running smoothly. This type of email address is memorable and clearly identifies the purpose of the account.

But sometimes the best laid plans don’t pan out.  When my second child was born nine years ago, I signed her up for a Gmail account. I was able to get her full name without dots, dashes or underscores.  As a techie dad, I felt I had scored a big win for my little angel.  How was I to know that by the time she learned to read she would prefer to communicate via IM and SMS?  Maybe if I have a third child I should not bother with a formal first and middle name and just give her a catchy screen name instead…