Area Code Envy
Phillip Hong
Recently the media in Toronto trumpeted a development that, on the surface, was almost jocular in some manner. Full of anecdotal interpretation with a definite lack of historical rationale, various radio stations, television outlets and major papers eagerly reported on the twentieth anniversary of the 905 area code in Southern Ontario. At least two major papers headquartered in Toronto printed over-the-top dramatic exposes on this rather banal milestone, incorporating a noticeably cynical look at the differences between city dwellers and folks from the suburbs. I for one am a vehement disbeliever of what is in practice the divisive tactics of a blase, misanthropical minority.
Who decided, in their right minds, to associate one's area code with a set of core beliefs, principles and identity? Papers have believed in their own assumptions, turning catchy and geographically useful phrases (the 416 encompasses the political City of Toronto while its ragtag suburbs are 905) into an orgy of contrasts and debate. Is there any one identity that describes people living in the suburbs, and is there a completely separate singular agglomeration for city counterparts? Who came up with an obviously colourless theory for, what some might argue, Canada's most colourful community?
Contrary to what some patently ignore, life and technology existed before 1993. Yes, it seems like a much more archaic society compared to that "virtual pint of beer app" smartphone owners now treasure, but I remember that point in life as an advanced time for what it was. With the wide adoption of cell phones (look up Cantel right now to see what I mean) and fax machines (gigantic gizmos that used to send and receive documents to other machines in communication) the original area code that was adopted in the late 1940s was running out of numbers. It's simple math to associate a metropolis of several million people with the need for more than one area code, especially when a phone number only reached seven digits per line. Even the phone company wanted to hammer in the idea leading up to the split, handing out fancy rulers to primary schoolchildren screaming our new area code.
Many won't tell you the simple truth that 905 had a life before settling into Toronto's suburbs (it used to be associated with phone lines in Mexico). With ten digit dialling quickly on the horizon (and as NAFTA beckoned), we were bound to ease in well.
I remember when media outlets began to use terms like "the 905 belt" to help describe headlines ("the province was lost to the opposition as the 905 belt switched political parties"), but the idea to discriminate between the old 416er and the newer 905er was much more recent than you and I seem to care about. It was an banal act to accommodate the endless thirst for new ways to communicate and a demand for second lines (at one point, people had to dial up to the internet) that turned into a banal part of a reporter's vocabulary that then turned into a lesson of instant geography, transitioning into an unnecessarily pretentious divide.
It's not like either area is better, more peaceful or even uneventful. The 416 area has had to struggle with their own internal identity as it consolidates further from the days of Metro Toronto. They still don't have a proper, sensible alternative to driving across the board, and the idea of living in high level shoeboxes championed downtown was really an idea developers from Vancouver came up with (think of the CN lands along the Gardiner). With artificially low land taxes compared to the suburbs and a mayor and council more interested in ignoring each other, some cynical residents have turned to poo-pooing the rather united front suburban and regional councils present in contrast.
The 905 shouldn't be celebratory either. Exclude all the other areas and count just Peel, York and Durham Regions and you have a population that is nearly half a million more than Toronto itself. There is no substantial local media - in other words a reliance on studios on Yonge and Dundas, Queen and John and the intestines of Scarborough to bring reliable information about Yonge and Mulock, Queen Street Bolton and the intestines of Oakville (which actually looks like a million bucks and financially out of my reach). No uniting transportation system or planning outside of highways and a hodgepodge of provincial routes, no hope in hell in responsible planning, and it's also home to the country's largest city without a hospital. Give yourselves some applause, like you won't care, as if anyone ever did in the past twenty years!
Let's be honest. We need to take a second look at ourselves if we are so painfully affected by the actions of one phone company that used to hold an official monopoly. Also consider, with relaxed telecom legislation, you can now choose your own area code for your phone number regardless of where you live. The 416 is not always snobbish, the 905 isn't all composed of soccer moms, and we're more than just a bunch of area codes. Remember this: Haddaway's "What is Love" was a new hit when all this started. Need I say more?
Phillip Hong is a columnist with
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