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EDITORIAL: Code for change

Not so long ago, area code changes were beyond inconvenient. They destroyed geographic identities. The first three digits of our phone numbers had physical boundaries that defined who we were and where we lived. Area codes were sources of regional and state solidarity.

The last time Nevada had an area code change, it perfectly symbolized regional divides that still exist today. A little more than 15 years ago, Clark County kept the 702 area code that had been used by the entire state, and the rest of Nevada was given the 775 area code. There was resentment from Tonopah to Tahoe. The fast-growing Las Vegas Valley had taken everyone’s telephone numbers away.

Southern Nevada gets a new area code Saturday, and the public response has been a chorus of crickets. Oh, how telecom has changed. Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, 725.

There’s been no griping around the water cooler for two reasons. First, the 725 area code is an overlay, meaning everyone who currently has a 702 phone number gets to keep it. Going forward, new telephone numbers in Clark County will start with 725. So, starting Saturday, even local calls in Southern Nevada will require dialing the area code first — even if it’s from one 702 number to another.

Which leads to the second reason hardly anyone cares about the change: Most of us don’t dial most of our calls anyway. In the smartphone era, we place calls with a single tap on a touchscreen. The phone numbers of our loved ones, friends and professional contacts are programmed into our phones, area code included. Memorizing numbers has gone the way of the rotary phone. (See if your teenager even knows what that is.)

For those who still do some dialing from a land line, adding the area code to local calls will take a bit of getting used to. Just like it took awhile to become accustomed to having friends and co-workers with out-of-state area codes. Cellphones have made telephone numbers portable to the point that people can have one set of digits for most of their lives, even if they live in a dozen different states at various times. We’ve come a long way since the human operators of the mid-20th century.

The more the population grows, the more businesses that open, the more area codes we’ll need.

The Atlantic’s Megan Garber wrote two months ago that “some have speculated that the current numbering plan will remain sustainable only until 2038 — at which point NANPA [the North American Numbering Plan Administration] may need to add one or two digits to each phone number. The codes that have become so familiar to us — so meaningful to us — may change. Not completely, but a little bit.”

Imagine everyone’s area code changing at the same time. Who knows how we’ll be communicating at that point, anyway?

That puts Nevada’s new area code in some perspective. Considering how rapidly technology has changed over the past decade and where it’s headed, a new area code is small potatoes. What once shaped our sense of place is now just another number.

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