The rise of the Internet is behind amazing transformations in the way we communicate. We can tweet our thoughts in 140 characters, enjoy video conversations and broadcast live video. Yet the venerable telephone is still hanging around. The phone has transformed and changed with the times, which is one of the reasons that it’s still around. What started out as a wired tool has morphed into a wireless one and instead of transmitting simple audio, we use the phone for accessing nearly infinite bits of data in every way currently imaginable. But one thing hasn’t changed: phone numbers.
In today’s communication scenario, people have multiple numbers and phones. There’s typically a home number, a work number and one or more cellular phones. I actually have more than half a dozen active phone numbers for some of my contacts. I don’t want to know — or have to figure out — which of their numbers I should be calling. Instead of allowing the technology to smartly route our conversation requests to the appropriate contacts, we’re stuck in the 150-year-old paradigm of using phone numbers. Shouldn’t we be worried less about the arbitrary numbers assigned to people? It’s time to upgrade the method we use to contact our friends. We need a method that moves us away from calling numbers and toward calling people.
We do something similar with the Internet every single day, although many people don’t even realize it. Every one of those readable URL addresses we type in is just a way for us to let the technology do the hard part. Each web site has a numerical IP address, just like a phone number, but we don’t have to remember them. Instead, the DNS system was created to handle the translation so we can just go to http://www.google.com instead of trying to remember something like http://126.96.36.199. Conceptually, this is the same type of solution we need for phone numbers: a DNS-like system for people is what I’m envisioning.