Leading Article: Misdial for the voice of reason

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The Independent Online
It is, says those banal BT advertisements, good to talk. But is it good to talk to the recorded voice of Faith Hammond of Lowestoft? For millions of Britons this weekend, there has been no choice. Queen for a day of the digital network, Ms Hammond was yesterday busy informing everyone who had forgotten that new dialling codes are now in operation. It will, we can be sure, be many weeks, maybe even months, before we have done with her services.

The challenge posed by the need to add the number one to many of the country's best-loved area codes is no small matter. For those in Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield, proud cities all, there is also the added insult of having to change their dialling codes almost completely.

This being Britain, a nation which saw off Napoleon and even coped triumphantly with the advent of decimal coinage, the strains of having to master new telephone codes will be dealt with as such challenges always are - doggedly, defiantly and with good humour.

It is true that other nations deal with these terrible crises differently. For them, it makes more sense to train their youngsters to be numerate and au fait with the latest gadgetry, so that nothing the future can throw at them holds any fears. Our way with numbers and domestic technology is different.

As most of us are largely innumerate, our attitude when mind-numbing changes occur is to suffer first and moan later. Ours not to reason why; per ardua ad astra. Such attitudes have served us well in the past and will do so again.

It is, in truth, hard to think of any event less imbued with significance than national PhONEday, as we were asked to call Easter Sunday yesterday. It seems to suit BT, its old nannyish culture still breaking through, to build up the event. There will, admittedly, be some cost if 3 million fax machines remain incorrectly programmed and continue to send faxes to machines that do not answer. But, in the scale of these things, this is of no moment.

If there is a significance in the new codes, it lies in the simple fact that we have responded so enthusiastically to the new regime of fax, modem and digital phone that we have, contrary to many warnings of a few years ago, outgrown the capacity of the existing codes to handle all the traffic.

So next time you speak to Faith Hammond, remember that hers is the voice of progress, if not of reason.