• U.S.

Customs: Give Me Liberty

2 minute read

When Bell System executives grandly announced that all telephone exchange names would soon be replaced by seven-digit numbers in the name of progress (TIME, May 11), they presupposed the blind acceptance of a benumbed and be-numbered public. They were wrong: the telephone company is now facing a minor rebellion. In San Francisco last week the Anti-Digit Dialing League was incorporated to oppose “creeping numeralism.” And an anti-digit patriot in Santa Rosa, unwilling to surrender one more word for three more numbers, cried: “Give me LIberty or take the blinking phone out.”

Fitting Machines. The A.D.D.L. was born a month ago when a want ad by angry San Francisco Organizer Carl V. May rallied a band of bitter anti-digit men, including famed Semanticist S. I. Hayakawa of San Francisco State College. Soon San Francisco lapels were sprouting A.D.D.L. buttons. Polling its readers, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that two-thirds of the ballots were opposed to all-number dialing. Said Hayakawa: “These people are systematically trying to destroy the use of memory. They tell you to ‘write it down,’ not memorize it. Try writing a telephone number down in a dark booth while groping for a pencil, searching in an obsolete phone book and gasping for breath. And all this in the name of efficiency ! Engineers have a terrible intellectual weakness. ‘If it fits the machine,’ they say, ‘then it ought to fit people.’ This is something that bothers me very much: absentmindedness about people.”

Guerrilla Methods, A.D.D.L. has quickly sprouted branches. In Los Angeles, one A.D.D.L. leader is Scientist Kent Gould, who complains, “We’re all being reduced to numbers. Some place you’ve got to stop and take a stand.” At Indiana University, the A.D.D.L. chapter has turned to guerrilla warfare. Interpreting the area code and seven digits as one huge number, they place calls by saying, “Operator, give me S. I. Hayakawa at four billion, one hundred fifty-five million, eight hundred forty-two thousand, three hundred and one.” Growls Chapter Leader Frederick Litto, “If they want digits, we’ll give them digits.” Litto ‘s men will also strike at the soft under belly of the telephone company’s automation by overpaying a few cents every month with the hope of snarling the auto mated bookkeeping system.

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