June 6, 2012

The State of the Personal Address(es)

By Andrew at 9:02 AM

I had an intriguing thought the other day.  My thought was this: when will phone numbers be phased out?  That sounds impossible, given today’s emphasis on everyone have a mobile phone with them all the time and, inherently, a phone-number.  It did get me thinking, however, about the various forms of addressing schemes that we use for different aspects of our lives.  Now I do not foresee phone numbers disappearing in the near future, but it makes for an interesting discussion, nonetheless.

Throughout life, we have various addresses.  The most obvious address that we distribute to others and use as our “physical” address.  We call it our home address since it is generally the location that we repeatedly return to on a daily basis.  But other addresses, in a non-traditional sense, include our voice-address (phone number), e-mail address (text-based communication), Skype name (video-based communication), Social Security number (government identifier), and even our name!  We take our names for granted, but it is true that our names are the most basic unit of address that can direct communication specifically toward us.  It is, in fact, included as an identifier along with other information on our mail.

Why do we have so many addresses?  Personally, I think it may be as simple as the addresses were developed at different times for different forms of communication.  Names do not usually include numbers, but rather oftentimes re-use names that are meaningful in family history.  Phone numbers ultimately do not consist of words, unlike e-mail addresses which frequently do.  Mailing addresses essentially contain the sequential location of a building with regard to other buildings along a stretch of road.  And I suppose that our Social Security number provides the equivalent of a government address.  Regardless, while these various identifiers do seem to fit their purposes well, it is interesting to consider why they take the forms that they do today.

While identifiers seem to have fit their purposes well up to this point, why do we retain such antiquated methods as the phone number when we could much more easily consolidate multiple addresses for multiple forms of communication into one identifier, such as unifying voice, video, and text under Skype, for example.  With the advent of technology that can integrate such options, the reality is that these technologies are still developing and changing over time.  That is why people have multiple e-mail providers, multiple social-media logins, and so on.  While several of these addresses may eventually be combined, I do not think that our names will ever change to the format of “1-234-555-1337.”  It would be interesting if telecommunications companies would eventually cease distributing phone numbers to their cell-phone customers, instead allowing people to make “calls” utilizing an e-mail address or other text-based identifier.  Or perhaps the post office could upgrade to the 21st century by allowing packages to be sent to e-mail addresses, connecting an electronic address with a physical location for delivery.  Who knows?

So until our addressing schemes change, call me at my phone number, mail letters to my home address, and refer to me as “Andrew.”  I doubt I would respond if someone were to reference me by my e-mail address.

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