What Your Phone Number Area Code Says About Your Credibility In This Town

by Rachelle Hruska · September 29, 2009

There is a huge fight going on in tumblr land on the meanings/connotations of certain NYC area codes. Which area code gives you more cred? 212? 917? 347? 718? etc. It's almost like we're discussing Amex cards (green IS the new black, you know?) Let's take a look at what some of our Manhattan friends think about these area codes, starting with Fame Game's Ryan Brown:

"In terms of “meanings”, for people living here “212” is a prime number since it is associated with Manhattan and business. To have a “212” here meant that “you made it”. “718” is more like the “second class, bridge and tunnel” person…. you’re in NYC but you’re in the outerboroughs. “917” has become a prime cell number now since there are very few of these around. “347” and “646” are still taking some “getting used to” although having a “347” gives a bit of “street cred” being mainly a cell number out in the outer boroughs."

Young Manhattanite shoots back with:

"This is all wrong. “212” means you have a landline, which means you are old (unless it is a business number, in which case: congratulations, you’re employed. “917” means you were an “it” person in New York circa 1996-7 (ie when people still namedropped Gwyneth Paltrow) and have since moved on to greener pastures. If you got “917” more recently, you are a loser if you make mention of the fact that you got “917”. “646” means you were a loser around 1996-7, but have managed to establish some sort of cred over time simply by virtue of the inevitable attrition of your superiors and the annual swell of city neophytes lapping onto the shores of this fair town just as you once did. If you came up through the “917” but now are “718”, that means you are white and live in a 1.5 million dollar plus brownstone in Park Slope. If you started out as “718” and are white, that means you moved to Brooklyn straight out of college. If you were born “718” and are not white, that means you didn’t go to college. No one who is white was born “718”. I don’t know what “347” means."

And finally, Peter Feld comes in to play referee:

YM FTW on this one. You can find a raft of articles from the ’90s about the anxiety of people begging for a 212 when they moved and NYNEX/Verizon (can’t remember) was trying to foist off 646s. I actually cited a NY Times article to the nice old-school customer service lady, she found it and located the quote from a spokesman who told the Times they would “try to accommodate” people who still wanted 212, and then she relented and gave me the one I still use for my (cough) land line. Here’s the technical explanation:

•Originally, the five boroughs were 212.

•In the 80s (too lazy to look up), Brooklyn/Queens/SI got 718, creating the first wave of status anxiety. The Bronx originally stayed 212 (just as it was part of the original, pre-1898 NYC) but was later shifted to 718, as 212 became more scarce.

•917 was the original NYC cell phone number — briefly an equalizer, since it covered all five boroughs, and showed you had a cell phone.

•646 was imposed in the late ’90s when 212 was becoming too scarce to accommodate all the landlines, which people mostly still had. This provoked real status anxiety.

•347 became the Brooklyn 917, i.e., for cell phones (also includes Queens, etc.)

•Sometime after, court decisions prevented area codes from being restricted to either landlines or cell phones, and later, phone number portability (keep your number when you change services) was required. As a result, 917, 718, 646, 347 and even 212 can now attach to a landline or a cell phone. 212 cell phones are rare (but are the coolest!), 718 more common. 917 landlines are common, and 646 goes both ways, though 347 is still mainly for non-Manhattan cell phones.

•At some point, it was made necessary to dial 10 digits even within your area code. Did you know that if you’re calling from a 212 phone, you must dial 1-718 but you need not dial the ‘1-’ if calling another 212 number? (May not apply from some corporate phone systems.)

There you have it folks. Area codes explained in full...just another day on Tumblr!