Stories from The Swedish Number

(find the audio version here.)

Hi, Im Carl from Sweden.

That’s how I the last days have answered my phone when a total stranger phones me, from somewhere in the world, mostly out of pure curiosity. So far I’ve probably taken about fifteen or twenty calls, and most, if not all, have been polite, inviting, explorative and great learning experiences.

So what’s this all about? Well, a new web service — The Swedish Number, was released upon the world some days ago by the Swedish Tourist Association. They want to spark people’s curiosity about Sweden — our culture, nature and mind set. And to realize this, they call upon the power of the people of Sweden. The reason for the campaign is that Sweden, 250 years ago, in 1766, became the first country in the world to introduce a constitutional law to abolish censorship. To honour this anniversary, Sweden is now the first country in the world to introduce its own phone number. Call today and get connected to a random Swede, anywhere in Sweden and talk about anything you want.

So I’m a Swede and also curious, so I couldn’t resist downloading the companion app and try out the service myself. It brought back memories from the 1980s in Sweden, when we had a rather strange, unofficial, service called “Heta Linjen”, or the Hot Line. If you called a number that was out of service, and waited, you would be connected to an automated voice telling you that the number was out of service. But if someone else called the same out of service number, they would be able to talk to you, or sometimes had to shout, as if you were talking between lines. This underground, online, contact point where one could talk to strangers, continued for some time until a lot of people on the Hot Line decided to meet in a park outside of Stockholm at a given time. For anyone not knowing, it was a strange meeting of young people in the park. Around a thousand people gathered, for no apparent reason. They did not engage in violence, but where nevertheless driven off by the police, who apparently did not really know how to handle this early form of flashmob.

Anyway, back to The Swedish Number. I installed the app, and to my surprise the first call came after just some minutes. It was an Australian man from Melbourne, and we talked about IKEA for some time. Not long after hanging up, another call. Also from Australia. This time from Brisbane. A family had dinner and had phoned The Swedish Number and put it on speaker phone. I had a lovely conversation with them, but it ended abruptly. I didn’t know why, thought it was something technical. But just some minutes after I got an email:

G’day Carl!
Apologies for being cut-off. I ran out of credit unfortunately… But we have successfully stalked you and here we are Smiley smile
Great talking to you, a random Swede! Your research stuffs sounds really interesting.
Enjoy your fika break and a very HAPPY FRIDAY to you.
Cheers,
The Brisbane Crew

Having these conversations felt great, and I let the app run in the background as I had my mandatory swedish “Fika”, or coffee break at work.

Another caller. This time a short call from some Italians on their way to Sweden, wanting to find some good nightclubs in Stockholm.

Just after having hanging up I get yet another call. I realize I’ll have to disable the app in order to get something at all done at work, but I’m too curious not to answer. This time a Korean man phones me. We start having a nice conversation on job related issues. We talk about the new Tesla model 3 coming. He tells me he works at LG in marketing, and I tell him I work at a Swedish IT research institute, with stuff like Virtual and Augmented Reality, neural interfaces, IT and learning and so forth. He’s really interested, and we discuss what LG products we use in our projects. We have a great conversation that ends up in us hooking up on Facebook to continue our discussions there. Perhaps engaging in some project — who knows?

I take some more calls. An American from Alabama worried about Donald Trump and what will happen to the relationships with the rest of the world if he gets elected. Two guys phoning from Vice Media in New York, exploring The Swedish Number. I disable the app to get some work done. But it’s opened up the world, for me and those with which I have spoken.

I am not alone answering calls from the world. After two days of operation, we are somewhere around 3000 Swedes and counting who have signed up. More than 20000 calls have been made, with a total call duration of more than 40 days. The Swedish Number has been written about in media all over the world, and people keep calling.

For me, it’s been a great day online. Think what such a small thing can do to make people engage, talk, and build bridges over the world. Hats of to the Swedish Tourist Association for making the world just a bit smaller, in a fun, warm and engaging way.

Get involved at www.theswedishnumber.com and phone a Swede by dialling +46 771 793 336. Take note that it is an international call to Sweden.

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