Facebook Is Preparing for a Future Without Phone Numbers

January 8, 2016, 7:41 PM UTC
Old-Fashioned Black Rotary Telephone
Still life of an old-fashioned black rotary telephone, 1930s. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Photograph by Frederic Lewis—Getty Images

Are phone numbers doomed to die?

If you ask Facebook’s vice president of messaging products David Marcus, the answer is a resounding yes. On Thursday, Marcus wrote a Facebook post detailing the company’s 2015 accomplishments and its 2016 plans for Facebook (FB) Messenger. The top 2016 prediction? “The disappearance of the phone number,” writes Marcus.

To explain his rationale, the Facebook exec harkens back to the age of the dumb phones:

Think about it: SMS and texting came to the fore in the time of flip phones. Now, many of us can do so much more on our phones; we went from just making phone calls and sending basic text-only messages to having computers in our pockets. And just like the flip phone is disappearing, old communication styles are disappearing too.

Other trends in the post include the replacement of apps with threads (“It is so much easier to do everything in one place that has the context of your last interactions…rather than downloading apps that you’ll never use again and jumping around from one app to another”) and more vague ideas about how important it is for human beings to be social and for products to “delight” us. Marcus also promises new developments in Messenger’s digital virtual assistant, M.


It remains to be seen whether phone numbers will become obsolete, but one thing is for certain: landlines are already heading the way of pagers and fax machines. According to research by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 44% of American adults lived in households with only wireless phone service in the first half of 2014. This is a huge jump from a decade earlier, when only about 2% of households did not have landlines.

If not having phone numbers doesn’t completely weird you out already, think of it this way: In a couple of years, phrases like “let’s exchange numbers” or “I’ll give you a call” might mean absolutely nothing. As will this SNL video.

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