Permanent Crisis Is The New Normal — Prosper Anyway #5 — What Does Your Phone Really Cost You?

Permanent Crisis Is The New Normal — Prosper Anyway #4 — What Others Think Of You Is None Of Your Business

Even if it's only $50, what is the real cost?

I got my first mobile phone from the Cellular One outlet in a Circuit City store in late 1992. It was a Motorola but not like the super big ones in American Psycho. (408) XXX-4167. I still remember the number because it's still my number 30 years later. I have a dual SIM phone, so I also have a Thai number for various service needs here.


It was cool. One of my early memories is of driving back from Reno where my grandmother held a party on a Sunday afternoon. During the drive back to San Jose I was listening to an afternoon talk show on KGO 810 out of San Francisco. I called in. I can't recall the host's name, but when I was on the air he made a specific point that I was calling from a cellphone—which I suppose was intended to add weight to my expressed opinion.

Cellphones were fantastic. How far we'd come.

And now here we are.

...It was before my time but back in the day, telephone communication didn't have automated switching. It was literally manual and human.

All operators were delightful and hot, just waiting to be asked on a date!

Back in the day, your phone number was the name of the switchboard and the number of your particular plug. So, like Fairview 1234. When you wanted to make a call, you picked up the phone and told the operator "Sterling 4321, please." It's an interesting history because electromechanical switching was invented in the late 1800s. But human operators persisted in many places into the 1950s. I guess it was good enough, and they had lots of sunk investment in it. Plus, maybe they liked the pretty operators around. I know I would.

I actually know a bit about this technically because as electrical officer on USS Reeves in 1986, I got to oversee the replacement of our ancient electromechanical telephone system with a digital one. The old one was a bit fun, though. Each switching unit was a barrel of discs, 4" diameter, 8" high, and each disc would physically rotate around independently to make the necessary precise connection from one telephone to another, all over the ship.

Over the years they had begun to cannibalize it. Parts were no longer available, so the IC (interior communication) mates would take the worst switching barrels offline and use the parts to repair the others. Well, that goes only one way and that was to laughable unreliability. It's ridiculous to have party lines on a warship.

"Combat center?"

"No, it's the ship's mini mart."

So after years of praying, we finally got the DIMENSION 3000!!! No shit, that's what it was named. One day in Yokosuka a Japanese contractor came to deliver and install it over a few day's time. We had to cut a 4x8 hole in the top deck of 3/4" steel to hoist up the old and lower in the new.

I can visualize it as though it was yesterday. Two slight of stature Japanese dudes in full Asian squat meticulously sorting and labelling every single of the hundreds of telephone nodes on the whole ship. As is the typical experience with competent Japanese labor, it worked flawlessly. We now had modern digital switching and also, reliable ship to shore and shore to ship communications when in port. Just like in a hotel, you preface with a number to go off ship and you're smilin' and dialin'.

...My most memorable incoming was one night, just after arriving back in port from somewhere.

"LT Nikoley, phone call in the wardroom."

"Hello, it's Nikoley."

"Hi Rick. It's Letty. Can you come see me?"

There's a saying in the Navy in those parts that if you want the most up-to-date ship's scheduling information, ask the nearest Filipina.

...Telephones were such good tools that they enjoyed the embrace of everyone. How crappy would movies be if there were no telephone booths? By contrast, the endless stream of phoneshit in movies now is often endlessly annoying. Back in the day, not being able to reach someone from a phone booth or courtesy phone at the bar didn't spell disaster for the plot. It was a bump in the road. Now, can't get through on the cellphone or text? It could very well spell the death of the planet and human civilization.

Oh, planet saved by a last-second cellphone connection! You're welcome, sponsors.

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Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2022, contains over 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More