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One of these days we’re going to have to stop calling them “area codes.” Increasingly, they’re not tied to an area, or only loosely to caller location. In some ways, these three-digit calling prefixes are the telephonic equivalent of surnames. Back in the (medieval) day, when most European cultures began to postpend surnames to given names, the surnames often had a direct link to personal attributes of the (male) identities to which they were initially attached: location (“Atwater”), patrilineage (“Johnson”), occupation (“Baker”), and so forth. But these personal attributes of particular ancestors grew less and less pertinent to the identities of their children’s children’s children’s children, who had adopted these surnames as group identities. For example, my surname apparently is archaic southern Polish for “basketweaver,” but I’m useless at arts and crafts.
As for “area codes,” why not simply “exchange codes” (as in “national calling exchanges,” which may or may not be correlated with location or carrier or with the exchanges of any other telecommunication service you’re subscribing to). An exchange code is becoming an empty group identity: having no fixed set of group attributes that apply to all instances of that group. Just a prepended “surnumber” that that points back to an increasingly distant matrilineage: back to some long lost common ancestor named “Ma Bell.”