If you’ve been on Twitter at all in the past week or so — or, heck, even if you’ve done nothing more than own a mobile phone in the past week — you’ve probably noticed all sorts of shenanigans pertaining to something called “number neighbors” occurring left and right. “Number neighbor?”, you might be wondering. “What is a number neighbor, exactly?” It’s probably more or less what you think it is, but just for good measure, here. Lemme ‘splain.
A “number neighbor” is the person who has the phone number one digit away from you in either direction — up or down. All you have to do find yours is either add or subtract one from the last digit in your phone number. If your number were 555-555-5555, for example — that time-honored stand-in for phone numbers used in fictional programming — then your number neighbors would be 555-555-5554 and 555-555-5556.
Starting at the end of July and picking up steam during the first week of August, though, number neighbors became more than just a curious fact of existence; they became a sort of trend, or — dare I say it — a challenge. People started texting their number neighbors at random and posting screenshots of the ensuing conversations on Twitter, which allowed the whole thing to grow into a full-on phenomenon. It’s showing no signs of slowing down, either, so settle in; we could be here for a while.
The concept of number neighbors isn’t actually new, however; it’s been around for more than 10 years. When the idea first showed up on the internet, though, it was under a different name: “Text door neighbors.” The Urban Dictionary entry for “text door neighbor” — or, more accurately, “text door neighbour” (presumably the person responsible for it is from a country that uses British English spelling, as opposed to American English spelling) — dates back to Aug. 11, 2008, where it’s defined as “the people who are a digit either side of your phone number.” The entry adds, “Many a friendship has been struck up by saying hi to a text door neighbour.”
“Number neighbor” itself got an entry about a year later on Aug. 6, 2009 — which, interestingly, is almost exactly a decade prior to its current resurgence. In 2009, “number neighbor” was defined as “someone who has the same phone number as you, besides the last digit.” Subsequent definitions for “number neighbor” and “textdoor neighbor” only went live at Urban Dictionary recently; those two entries are dated Aug. 3 and Aug. 4, 2019, respectively, so, clearly, they’re a reaction to the trend currently sweeping Twitter.
Sometimes, number neighbor conversations turn out to be surprisingly wholesome. Take this guy who ended up adopting his number neighbor’s dog because they couldn’t take her with them when they moved, for example:
At the same time, though, it’s probably a good idea to exercise caution when attempting to text your number neighbor. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure I’d even recommend doing it in the first place; then again, I am extremely risk-averse, so do with that what you will. Anyway, part of it has to do with your own safety; beyond the question, of whether you really want to give some rando access to your phone number (as one Twitter user put it, “How did we go from ‘don’t talk to random strangers on the internet’ to ‘hey I’m your number neighbor?'”), it’s worth noting that a lot of people have experienced some super creepy messages in response to their initial attempts to contact their number neighbors. (Pro tip: Don’t send your number neighbor an unsolicited NSFW pic.) And part of it also has to do with the fact that not everyone is necessarily equipped to handle a number neighbor conversation.
Indeed, as Mashable’s piece on the trend from earlier this week points out, “Sometimes texting your ‘number neighbor’ goes horrifically wrong”: Your number neighbor might be a child. Your number neighbor might be someone going through a hard time and doesn’t appreciate being contacted by strangers. Your number neighbor might even be someone who has recently passed away and whose loved ones now have to deal with some random person texting their old friend or family member’s phone as they grieve. (Yes, there is actually a screenshot in the Mashable piece that is that exact scenario.)
And, of course, some people just might not want to receive texts from people they don’t know — and, as is becoming increasingly obvious from all the tweets about number neighbors, it’s actually not uncommon for people who don’t want to talk with their number neighbors to send some… uh… strong language in return when contacted. While you could make the argument that anyone who does not wish to chat with their number neighbor could simply say something like, “Thanks for reaching out, but I’m not into this. Please don’t contact me again,” and block the number, it’s honestly kind of understandable that some folks might respond more negatively than that. They have just received an unsolicited text message from a complete stranger, after all; it’s not too dissimilar from, say, just randomly showing up at someone’s house and insisting they let you inside for a cup of tea and a chat when you don’t even know who they are.
(Again, that doesn’t excuse abusive language, but it’s understandable that your number neighbor might be annoyed at having been roped into this whole thing without their say-so.)
So, if you must text your number neighbor, be polite. Don’t be a creep. And if your number neighbor doesn’t respond enthusiastically or straight-up asks you to leave them alone… leave them alone. Have fun, but be safe.
Or maybe I’m just old.
That's probably it.