Saturday, November 28, 2009

What's Your Number... Again?

I have an old associate I've worked with for years... let's call him Jim Brown. Recently in the normal course of events, something popped up on my radar screen and I needed to get a hold of him. Unfortunately I couldn't remember his number, not having spoken with him in a while. But these days, between computers and cell phones, nobody needs to remember anything. All you have to do is punch in a name, press the little green telephone icon, and you're connected toot sweet.

So I turned on my phone and entered "Jim." Simple enough. But up popped "Jim Brown," Jimmy Brown," "James Brown," "James T. Brown" and "JT." Were they all him? I wasn't really sure. There were a number of different phone numbers and emails, all in different combinations. In fact, since we were working together on a project shortly after Hurricane Katrina, there was even an entry for my then favorite nickname for him, courtesy of President Bush. I can honestly say that, at least for me, "Brownie" did do a heck of a job.

It's all much more confusing than it used to be. When all I had was a simple address book, good old Jimmy would have been filed under "B" for his last name. I would scribble his number and address there, where it would remain. If he gave me a new one, I would scratch out the old and add it, or write the new one with a star next to it. And if I needed to contact Jimbo, all I did was riffle through the pages and there he was.

Then under the mistaken impression that I was making my life more organized and simpler, I decided to "datafy" the whole thing. That meant I bought a program for my computer, and spent night after night while watching TV inputting everybody's name and info into my laptop. It was grunt work of the highest order, figuring how to put the square address of the real world into the round hole of the entry fields. Was "Apartment 22" the second line of the street address? Did the spare fax/phone a friend had go in the fax box, the "other" box or both? And where did one stick the PIN's needed for all those pagers?

Eventually it all made got translated into bits and bytes, and was slowly beat into submission. So what if there were some multiple entries as I forgot where I filed things? It might have been a little jumbled, but it was all there. And the more familiar I got with it, the easier it became to find things.

Then three things happened. Everybody starting changing their cell phone numbers as they got better deals. They also started adding multiple emails to deal with work and play. And address books morphed into contact managers with much more complex layouts. Transferring the old data to the new program, as well as adding all the new info, was a terrifying experience, roughly akin to moving the residents of Brooklyn into Manhattan and praying they wouldn't fight over the parking spaces.

Eventually it all got smushed into your new PDA. Again, there were multiple entries for the same people with slightly different information. Again, new email and new phones kept getting added and prioritized without eliminating the old ones. And again you eventually wrestled it to the ground, learning along the way that your mother was both Mom and Harriett at the same time.

Now here we go again. When you buy a new App Phone, as they're being called, the nice people at the store have a handy dandy device that takes all the information you've accumulated and transfers it to the new one in a flash. But... and they kind of forget to mention this... the new phone has a different filing system. So if you're like me, your new listing of friends and family now contains over 2500 entries, including 37 "Dans," 42 "Steves" and a whopping 51 "Bobs," none with last names. Thankfully there was only one Nestor... but we stopped talking years ago.

Eventually I'll get it sorted out. The database will be a thing of beauty, sliceable and diceable to find people by occupation, zip code or preference for Mexican food. And I'll be able to lay my finger on your number in the bat of the eye. But until then, if you call and leave a message, just make sure to leave your number.


Marc Wollin of Bedford was able to skinny his 2500 entries down to 1858 in just 4 days of editing. He's still going. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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