Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 13, 2017

Hold the Phone. (Where Should I Hold It?)

Our phones were inoperative here at UWS intergalactic HQ for several days last week. An enterprise that is all about communication is hampered without telephones. Another reminder how reliant we are on infrastructure technology.

I’ve lived long enough to see radical changes in telephone technology. As a kid, we had a rotary dial phone (Millennials, look it up) connected to a “party line:” A number of houses in the area shared a single phone line; if your neighbor was on the phone when you picked it up, you heard their conversation. If you needed to make a call you asked them to hang up.

I was a late adopter of a mobile phone for a number of reasons. I traveled for business, but my company was slow to provide phones.

There’s a classic reason that companies are slow to adopt technology, whether it’s phones, email, or, years ago, photocopying: Executives who make the decisions don’t need them.

I heard the CEO of the multi-billion-dollar company I worked for express scorn for employees who wanted mobile phones. They were unnecessary, he said: an expensive, pointless luxury.

Why did he think that? Because someone took his calls for him and gave him messages. If he needed to talk to anyone (me, for instance), he didn’t call me, his assistant did that. And if I was in the restroom, someone would dash in and yell, “The CEO wants you!”

He didn’t need a phone … or email. His assistant handled that, too. So, I had no mobile phone for a long time. Technology of all sorts battles executive perspective. It took a lot of pleading to convince my very first boss that we writers might benefit from word processors. A typewriter was good enough for him (his assistant did a lot of his typing).

Phones, though, are hugely important. They’re a core tool for managing not just work, but our lives, through both voice and text: to know where the kids are, tell your supervisor you’re running late, call the plumber or the doctor’s office or any of a thousand other basic things.

With the growing ubiquity of mobile phones, one sees this sight less and less:

pay phone Brad Nixon (491x640)

That’s a pay phone. Not only that, it has a phone book. Two endangered species.

One does see them in less-advantaged neighborhoods, where not everyone has the budget or the stability of life to own a phone and a telephone account. Pay phones persist because people need phones, especially if they’re working two jobs, juggling day care, school schedules, plumber visits, doctor appointments and the vexations of a harried life. A personal mobile phone is an enormous advantage.

Enter a member of the United States House of Representatives, commenting on an important topic in the U.S. right now: health care.

Those of you in other countries may be aware that the U.S. has taken its first slow steps toward providing universal healthcare insurance for all citizens, not simply as a private commercial enterprise. The new federal administration is determined to remove many — if not all — of those provisions.

Defending the likelihood that health insurance prices will now rise, that legislator said, “Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice. So maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.”(1)

To an extent, that representative was coming from the same mindset as my former CEO. He could probably get along without a phone, because he has a staff, interns, a cadre of people who’ll take care of things. The rest of us don’t. In fact, our phones are probably more important to us than is his to him. But our health care matters, too. Not spending $650 on a new phone doesn’t make up for insurance that likely costs about $400 – $600 per month or more.

What’s really at work is the notion that health care insurance must be paid for, not provided as an entitlement, stemming from a long-held belief by the already-entitled that insurance is something to be earned — merited. One should have a job that provides insurance (like being a member of Congress) or earned wealth of some other type, insulating one from messiness like not having enough money. If one does not, one does not deserve medical care. Let them eat cake.

Scrooge said it best: “Are there no prisons? ….And the … workhouses. Are they still in operation? …. If they would rather die … they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

So, if your elected officials tell you to save money in order to afford the doctor bills by “holding the phone,” perhaps you should tell them to hold it, instead.

If they ask where they should hold it, then you can quote one of the 20th Century’s great philosophers, Jack. Jack said it best (you may see an advertisement before the clip plays):


And hold the chicken, too, Representative.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Clip from “Five Easy Pieces,” 1970, © Five Easy Pieces Productions.

(1) For quotation attribution  see at this link.

N.B. This is the 600th post on Under Western Skies. I thank you for exploring with me. There is much more to see, read and do under that arching dome of blue.


  1. I giggled through the first half until the serious stuff came up. I think you make an excellent point on health care; a thought-provoking piece. I hope we are able to come up with a solution.


    • Thanks, Stacy. Trying not to get heavy-handed, and I mostly leave the sociopolitical things out of UWS. That one burned me up. I’ve taken a breath and will get back to reading and traveling.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations on your 600th Under Western Skies post! I look forward to many more. Love your closing with Jack in this post — perfect, and one of my favorite movie scenes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Where I live we do have national universal healthcare, and the nation has had 26 successive years of economic growth, which I think puts us in the top two across the OECD for that measure. While the factors underlying economic performance at a national level are complex and multifaceted, I strongly believe that there is a causal connection between these two pieces of information.

    A suspicion that there may be a reduction the coverage of the national healthcare system (for purely ideological reasons) very nearly lost the conservative-leaning Federal government the last Federal election……. they managed to turn a sizeable majority in the House of Representatives into a margin of just one seat….. so it is something that the usually fairly laid-back Australian polity can become very passionate about, very quickly!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The simplicity of the argument that a healthier population is more productive, effective and less expensive to maintain should be — I think — obvious. Not to mention HAPPIER. No wonder the greeting in Australia is “Have a g’day, mate!” and here it’s “Whatever ….”


  4. Yes, well, and another footnote to your representative Representative: US Congressmen and women are automatically provided 100% lifetime free medical coverage. It is for this additional reason that they are incapable of thinking like the ordinary citizen about the difficult, perilous daily healthcare choices we common folk must consider. They just haven’t got a Marie Antoinette clue, except in one respect: they will do what the powerful lobbyists and wealthy campaign donors tell them to do. As for the rest of us, good f—ng luck.

    On a happier note, definitely MAJOR congrats on your 600th post. A real achievement of a high quality blog.


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