Names vs. Numbers

We are so fortunate to have people around who try to make things easier for us. I’m referring, specifically, to those folks who have so vastly improved our lives by giving us road numbers. It’s so much better for the folks living on those roads to have a number rather than a name for an address. Think about it. Why would you want to tell people you live at 1234 Smith Road when you could be telling them you live at 0816 E CR 1050N. See? Isn’t that much better?

Oh, you don’t think so? Well, guess what. NEITHER DO I.

I know why the numbering of roads has become so common. It’s a way to make finding places easier. E911 systems work much better when there’s a rigid scheme of numbering that defines where places are. Road names and unscientific numbering patterns confuse the software used in E911 emergency response systems and therefore confuse the humans who use them.

Allen County, Indiana, has so far not bought into the numbering of county roads and streets. That’s fine with me, and I hope this backward thinking continues on the county’s part. What would we do if we lost Butt Road to a number? How about Harry Baals Drive? What number could that street possibly get that could be more descriptive or evocative than a name like that? Other counties in other states have very interesting road names. Those counties, I should say, that have not converted to the road numbering scheme. In those places where numbers have replaced names, the names remain only on old maps or in the memories of the folks who are old enough to remember the names that once were. After a generation or so, the names of roads will be lost to antiquity.

There was a time when roads didn’t even necessarily have names. In those days, a place could be found only by asking someone who knew how to find it. If you were looking for a place and were lucky enough to stumble across that someone, the route to the place would explained through the description of intersecting roads, landmarks, flora (such as large oak trees or spirea bushes as markers), and geological formations such as hills and rivers. This method of relating how to find places promoted descriptive language and probably helped many people to improve their communication skills.

Road numbering is just one more step in the digitization of our world. Pretty soon, everything will have unique ID numbers. Humans could have numbers instead of names. That would be much better. Then there would only be one of me instead of the thousands of me that show up on a Google search. I would have my own number, and when it is Googled, only my photo would appear on your screen. My unique number could be tatooed on my butt along with the appropriate barcode. I could be scanned into and out of existence easily and effortlessly.

If that ever happens, there will be some of us who will not give in completely to the new system. We will wait patiently for the appearance of The One. When The One arrives on the scene, he will tell us all of the original and real names of all the numbered roads, beginning with Highway One. Too bad The One himself has been numbered. But, that’s the way things go. Hopefully, he’ll be able to remember his own real name after having been called One for so long.

In the meantime, each time I travel on a numbered road, I will wonder what name that road used to have – back in the day, when roads had names and people didn’t have numbers.

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