Manhattan was given its 212 area code in 1947. Forty-five years later, the phone company needed to add 646 and 917. And now, we are about to get 332.
Below, Elaine (from Seinfeld) responds to a new area code:
Where are we going? To area codes as status symbols.
Area Code Origins
The area code story is all about number depletion. Each time we run out of phone numbers, we have to add digits. As the New Yorker’s Roger Angell explained in 2003, “I’ve lived at the same Manhattan address for thirty years and in that span have gone from a LEhigh 4 prefix to LE 4 to 534 and now to 1-212-534.”
In 1947, 212 became the area code for all five NYC boroughs until the population grew and the area code had to be split. At the time, many of the people in the outer boroughs who had their 212 replaced by 718 were so angry that subsequently new area codes were added whenever possible and none taken away. In 1999, 646 became Manhattan’s second area code and 917 its third but mostly for mobile in all five boroughs. With both maxing out at 7.9 million, in 2017 area code 332 will be added.
Lots of people are going to be unhappy.
Area Code Prestige
Area codes come with a message. Designating a real Manhattanite, 212 has cachet while 415 says San Francisco technology and 310 is LA. (The LA Times said 310 means rich.) My favorite is 321, the area code for Cape Canaveral (and the rest of Brevard County, Florida).
Predictably, there is a market in rare area codes. Stocking up on his inventory of 415s when 628 was added this year, a phone number broker, at PhoneNumberGuy.com, says he can sell you 415-787-7777 for $9,999. His most expensive number, at $99,999 is 702-Fortune.
The PhoneNumbersGuy says that 310 is the toughest area code to secure because it is so rare.
Our Bottom Line: Conspicuous Consumption
According to Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929), the affluent try to convey their power and wealth through excessive leisure and shopping. Servants and employees help the affluent do less while their money lets them signal their status by buying more. As expressed by Veblen, “The members of each stratum accept as their ideal of decency the scheme of life in vogue in the next higher stratum, and bend their energies to live up to that ideal.”
Is Veblen is describing an area code buyer?