Saturday, June 09, 2012
Talk about an unlucky draw.The question of identity has haunted the story of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. The country has argued in the press and on the blogs and around the water cooler over the significance of their respective ethnicities, and the media's characterization of them. There are many sides to identity, though, beyond race and ethnicity. Now that phone numbers are associated much more with individuals than locations and they are nationally transferable, they are increasingly an attribute of identity. We not only call and text with them, but they trigger avatars in receiving phones tied to their owner. Employees with company cell phones want to take their numbers with them when they leave -- how else will other people locate them or identify them when they text or call?
An Orlando, Fla., man says his life has been turned upside down since May 7, when T-Mobile reportedly assigned him the cellphone number formerly used by accused Florida murderer George Zimmerman.
It's the same mobile number Zimmerman gave police dispatchers during the notorious 911 call moments before he shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin three months ago. The 911 call (with Zimmerman heard spelling out the number) has since been widely circulated by the media and on the Internet.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Junior Alexander Guy, the man who inherited Zimmerman's old number, immediately started getting weird calls at all hours of the night.
"You deserve to die!"
The George Zimmerman story reminds us of a couple of things. First, a call to 911 in a case that attracts great publicity exposes our identity as never before. Not only do people know our name, but they know in a very real sense where to find us. Perhaps worse, once a number is imbued with identity the number itself becomes a target for harassment and threats, however disassociated that number may be as a matter of law or contract. Like a transplant horror movie, the new owner of the number is now haunted by his predecessor. This, of course, raises a new question: Ought recipients of new telephone numbers be entitled to know who owned them before?
Maybe not, but they certainly should be able to get a phone number that *isn't* already well-publicized as part of a famous or infamous current event. What on earth was T-Mobile thinking, not to retire this phone number?
In the land-line business there is or at least was a criterion that any home number was not to be used for at least six months after being relinquished. For businesses the period was at least a year. Nobody wants to get the number of a pizza parlor. However, today, these well known numbers plastered all over refrigerators in the area are prized assets to be sold if the business goes out of business.
Pay-as-you-go wireless numbers are given up quite frequently and probably cause a shortage of usable numbers in certain areas.
JLW III an old Bell Labs phone man. I looked for a pertinent BSP, Bell System Practice, but could not find one.