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Betty Stone: Got your number -- maybe


Betty Stone



During the recent holiday season something really grabbed my attention. We have now become a nation of numbers. That is not a particularly comfortable feeling for people like me, people who started their formal education in various schoolrooms throughout the country with an oppressive dread of being sent to the blackboard to work arithmetic problems. In view of the whole class. Without mercy. You couldn''t even guess. There is no approximation in arithmetic. 


My father never understood why I could not see that math was beautiful. That made me even more apprehensive. I inferred that perhaps my well-loved father might be just a little bit crazy. Meanwhile, I had better continue to pray (ineffectively, I might add)) that I be spared the humiliation of being required to solve problems involving 7s, 8s or 9s. 


Some people resorted to counting on their fingers. There is apparently a reason both fingers and numbers are called digits. I have read that some savants assign colors to different numbers and keep up with them that way, but I could never picture it. The best I could do was to designate the correct number of dots to each numeral''s shape and add them up by counting the dots. You can easily see why I was never fast. 


It just seemed to me that numbers had nothing intrinsic that made them memorable. And now, to my horror, we have become a nation of numbers. 


By the numbers 


You could have seen it coming. Nearly everyone had to have a Social Security number, but you don''t use it every day. Nearly everyone had a phone number, but that did not start out as a problem. Way back during World War II, when shortages meant some of us had to have shared "party lines," it could be downright simple. Our numbers during that time were 243-W and 2-J. Even I could remember those. 


Then both population and technology exploded. Telephone numbers got longer.Credit cards appeared on the scene. Some people had theirs memorized in no time. And now, what I observed during the holidays was the proliferation of individual phone numbers for cell phones, necessary for safety and convenience. These days everybody has a cell phone with a separate number. 


Like most people, we had to make many phone calls in preparation for the holidays. Furthermore, the people we called were seldom at home. Not to worry. Just reach them on their cells. 


Ah, but not so fast. Cell phone numbers are not in the directory. Well, of course I could look them up in my private little book. However, sometimes my little book and I were separated. At my most disorganized, we might even be in different cities. When someone said, "Just call my cell phone," it wasn''t all that easy. 


Now, you may say that this is the time to commit at least family numbers to memory. Well, don''t forget you are dealing with a brain polished so smooth early in life that numbers cannot adhere. Besides, I have three daughters, three sons-in-law, and eight grandchildren. That''s 14 different phones with nine-digit numbers. (See, already I have to multiply by nine and remember them in order!) Check me now: 126? 


I am aware that there is a way to list your frequently-called numbers on your phone, but you must remember that we numerically-challenged people don''t have strong technological expertise, either. What are we to do? 


I guess our only recourse is to make a monumental effort to live in a technological world. I believe it can be done. After all, I have had to go over arithmetic drills enough as I reared three children so that by my advanced age, I finally improved a little bit. I guess I''ll just have to learn to deal with all those numbers. 


I had said I was not going to fool with a New Year''s resolution, but this one just plopped itself right in my lap. I resolve to enter the 21st century -- 10 years late! Perhaps I''ll even get a smart phone and new number myself. 



Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.


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