Juggling Act: Cutting the cord on an old phone number, email address isn't easy

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News
A phone bill from December 25, 1950 for the Strek family shows their balance as $12.49. The phone number stayed in the family for almost seven decades.

In September of last year, Tom and Elisabeth Strek of Macomb Township said goodbye to something that had been in their family for nearly seven decades, through marriages, children, illness, and all of life's twist and turns: their phone number.

The number had once been Tom's parents home number in St. Clair Shores. So when Tom and Eddie (she goes by Eddie instead of Elizabeth) moved into the old bungalow where he'd grown up, naturally, they took the phone number as well.

Five years ago, the Streks, who later moved to Macomb Township, switched that same number from a land line to a cell phone. But last September, it was time to say goodbye.

"We were very sad because it was his (Tom's) parents' number from 1949 but (we) couldn’t justify the cost," said Eddie in an email.

It's funny how attached we can get to something like a phone number or an email address. A series of numbers -- and letters and symbols if it's an email -- becomes a part of our identity. Memories are attached. And it's hard to say goodbye.

I have a Macomb County phone number even though I haven't lived in Macomb for nearly 7 years. It's the contact for all my kids' schools and doctors' offices. I could change it but that would be exhausting and time-consuming. For now, I keep it. 

Email accounts are another challenge. Sifting through an old account I've had for nearly 20 years but rarely use -- an account so old I can't even send messages from it anymore on my iPhone -- it's a digital reminder of all the ups and downs of my life over the last two decades. 

I found emails from when I was pregnant with each of my three kids, notes from loved ones when my dad died unexpectedly nearly eight years ago, recipes, photos and much more. It's a digital scrapbook in many ways.

I worry about losing access to this account one day. And as technology changes at a lightening speed pace, it's not a matter of if but when something like email will become obsolete.

I'd contemplated abandoning this very email account at one point not long ago. Overrun with messages from retailers heralding the latest sale (how many sales can there be in one day?), my inbox was nothing but clutter.

And more came every day. Like a lawn overrun with weeds, I considered letting the account go native. I'd just walk away.

But I couldn't. There were important emails between the clutter -- emails that may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, but are very important to me. So I spent hours fighting through the clutter to reclaim it.

And for good reason: Studies have shown digital clutter can make people feel just as harried and stressed as actual clutter. 

Watching me hunched over my phone every night, deleting thousands of emails (confession: I had 21,000 new messages in my inbox at one point), my husband compared me to Sisyphus from Greek Mythology. Instead of constantly rolling a boulder uphill like Sisyphus, I was deleting the daily deluge of Old Navy emails about $5 t-shirts.

But I plowed through. My account now has a much more manageable 4,000 messages. 

For now, I’m hanging onto my old email account. And I’ll hang onto my cell number with the 586 area code. They may be nothing but letters and numbers, but I guess I’m just not ready to say goodbye.


Twitter: @mfeighan