Will Street Addresses Always be Important to Us?

Street House Number 175 on Historic 25th Street.
Although humans have been building cities for over 10,000 years we have only been using street numbers for a few centuries.

Did you know that street numbers were not used until the Middle Ages? And of all places where you might expect people to NOT use street addresses, it was the people of Venice who introduced the custom to Europe. That amazing fact often surprises people who assume that the Roman empire probably invented street addresses.

How did people find each other prior to the use of street addresses? Historians assume you had to ask around, looking for major landmarks. But directions to people’s homes probably included counts of turns and steps, too.

Today if you want to find someone you search for ways to find their addresses for free, but I think the world is changing and maybe we’ll eventually do away with traditional street addresses because we’ll probably just locate people via their smart phones. By using GPS positioning technology you can choose a location on a map without really knowing the street address and just head to those coordinates.

You can almost see an example of this kind of alternate addressing in action if you search US census data for addresses that have changed over time. You get the same building or location but a different designation as street names have changed, streets have changed, and building units have changed.

People do talk about using only GPS coordinates as their home addresses, although this is still treated somewhat skeptically in western countries. That skepticism may vanish as more smart technology apps make it easier to acquire and store GPS coordinates.

In the future we may be able to create entire addressing systems around absolute GPS coordinates that work worldwide. Doing so would eliminate the confusion of different postal code systems. But that might also make the naming of streets redundant. Many streets are named in honor of people, especially great leaders of society. The world might be a sadder place for having fewer honors like that.