We Need More Short Numbers

by Colin Berkshire

We used to have 8 precious easy-to-remember numbers:

  • 411 for directory assistance
  • 211 for long distance assistance
  • 611 for telephone repair
  • 911 for emergencies.

When we added 311 for government, 511 for road information, and because everybody needs to call cable locations all the time we allocated 811 to it. (The assignment of 811 is probably the single most brainless telephone number assignment in all of history…only a small group of professional contractors need this number and they know it.)

So now have the “easy to remember” number 988 for suicide prevention. What’s easy about that? Wouldn’t 1-800-555-1111 have been easier to remember?

Actually, we would have been smart to assign 1-800-911-xxxx for all types of quasi emergency numbers. That would have made too much sense.

So given the lunacy and lack of thinking about easy-to-remember numbers I think we should just bite the bullet. In the new tradition of 988, I propose the following easy-to-remember numbers:

  • 898 – Crazy Karen Reporting (A “Karen” is a crazy, usually racist, person making verbal assaults.)
  • 989 – For reporting dead bodies.
  • 879 – For reporting racial assault.
  • 899 – For COVID-19 reporting, except for the B117 strain.
  • 998 – For reporting cases of the B117 strain of COVID-19.
  • 789 – For reporting slippery sidewalks, except for icy conditions.
  • 987 – For reporting slippery sidewalks because of ice.
  • 711 – For reporting a 711 store being robbed.

You get the idea. There comes a point when too many special-case numbers actually undermines the very purpose that they are intended to help.

So getting back to the new easy-to-remember number 988 (or was it 889, or perhaps 998?) we would have been smarter to tell suicide people to call 911. Then, when asked: “What is the nature of the emergency?” Telling people to describe that they were thinking about suicide. The nice 911 operator could then route the call appropriately.

911 is for emergencies. A suicide should qualify as an emergency. I doubt that people contemplating suicide will learn in advance the easy-to-remember number of whatever-it-was because now even I don’t remember.

Perhaps we should assign the easy-to-remember number 261 as a service that can then direct you to what easy-to-remember-number you can’t remember.