By Salem Lorot
In the past, we used the fire and smoke signals and messengers to send messages. Then we came with the post office and the telegrams. We sent letters a month before to announce our visit to someone. Then came the phone which totally revolutionized everything. Where communication in the past was slow and arduous, with the phone it is rapid and instantaneous.
And with the new technology, we have changed our lifestyles.
I habour no scintilla of doubt of the great benefits the phone has brought to our lives. That is without question. After all, with a touch of a keypad, one can keep abreast with a happening somewhere in Tajikistan while holed up somewhere in Africa. And who ever imagined that the phone could send money, of all things? (Now, I await them to invent how phone power could be transferred from one phone to another). Dating has been made easier. All you do is send a text to some number and you get your wife to marry. No middlemen who eat your messenger fees and end up marrying the girl of your dream. No long courtship because people are tired of these long courtship thing. Things are fast nowadays. And who imagined, even in their wildest fantasy, that one could read a book on phone and even convert it into a portable library? Now, you can actually do research on phone and avoid those mean library attendants who haggle with you if you don’t have the library card. Things are changed nowadays. What we wait for is an app that can read somebody’s mind and we are good to go.
But even with the frenetic pace the phone has took; I am reluctant to say whether, in the long run, this is a good thing. I will not dwell much on the increased cases of fraud (in the case of mobile phone transactions, although that brings another issue) or some other peripheral issues as to the inconveniences in terms of lack of privacy and lying on the phone. Rather, I want to touch on the crux that lies at the heart of the society. The phone is taking this away, and it worries me.
A few scenarios for your consideration.
You are seated in a matatu. You are on Facebook chatting with a new Facebook friend by the name Her Hotness Missus. Her info reads: Cambridge University. That is all. You are all worked up impressing her. First, who is this Her Hotness Missus? My English teacher taught me about first names and surnames. Are those titles or adjectives? But not to worry, you are there ‘to make friends’ and these ‘cross-cultural’ link-ups must be embraced. And ironically, you are seated with a lady whose name if you asked for would not be a ‘Her Hotness Missus’ but some Kenyan one. You can see her. You cannot see ‘Her Hotness Missus’. You pay data bundles chatting with ‘Her Hotness Missus’. You don’t pay any bundles to say hi and a few pleasantries to the lady next to you. So, why you cannot put the phone away and talk with somebody next to you simply eludes me. I don’t get it. It makes a lot of social and economic sense but somehow you don’t get it. (Note to self: Yet people say they don’t get spouses. How can you get your better-half when your face is buried on your phone screen?)
Have you talked with somebody who somehow tries to multitask between your conversation and the phone? I get irritated. This is a serious faux pas! It is a gaucherie! It is like my conversation is some chickenshit. Why is it that these kinds of people are the ones who agree with everything? “Yep”, “Yeah”, “Yeah, right”. Bloke, get a life, if you are not interested in a conversation just say so and I will be out of your way like greased lightning.
You are crowded in a matatu, again. Everyone is particularly quiet—especially around 20th day of the month when they are dead broke—trying to think of how much they can squeeze from the Nairobi streets so as to keep going. Then some bloke seated in the middle of the matatu erupts into paroxysms of laughter. Who made him laugh? The phone. These small gadgets make people laugh. If a person who died in the late eighties or even early 90’s was to resurrect and was placed smack in the middle of Nairobi, he would be surprised of many things. Of course, he would be amazed at how the Nairobi people cross the road ( they don’t dash like in the past, no, they just walk across it and if a vehicle drives fast, they stand still and let the driver decide whether to drive in front of them or behind them; it is that simple). He would be held in awe of the tall buildings. And one of the things that would astonish him would be the phones—people talking ‘to themselves’, getting angry, laughing, crying.
My lament is that our conversations are getting shorter and shorter as technology progresses. At first Facebook shortened it, now they changed it in the word length on status updates. But twitter does not help matters. How does one communicate in not more than (wait, how many words were they? They are less than 500 words, right?). Sometimes back, we wrote letters at least one page long. Then somebody changed that by introducing SMS and emoticons. In a letter, we wrote more than 500 words (the one that twitter has thrown through the window; it is part of the wider conspiracy to lock us, the chatterboxes, from the social media, that much I know) just to express our love (or infatuation) to someone. But now, you just write ‘Love’ and insert a love emoticon and you are good to go. There is even an emoticon for a hungry man. In the ancient past, these were rock paintings and they were considered uncivilized. Now, the emoticons are not on rocks but electronic screens and they are considered civilized. Same concept, different times, different perceptions.
Our lying levels are now astronomically high, thanks to our phones. You are stuck up somewhere in Kangundo road, a whole 1 hour drive to the CBD in good times, and someone is calling from the CBD yet you have the temerity to say on the phone, “Give me five minutes, hold a bit and I will be there”. Somehow, we have engaged in a reverse-lying psychology. You lie that you are in a designated place so as to speed up the other party. Most times it works. No one wastes the other’s time. Husbands lie to their wives that they are stuck up in traffic jams yet they are in brothels. Wives lie to their husbands that they are with their ‘girlfriends’ and somehow don’t mention the adjective lesbian. Texts are deleted from phones, others caught cause divorce. The phone has complicated everything. Daughters send emoticons to their boyfriends using their dad’s phones and somehow communicate a message that they would be meeting that afternoon. The classical voyeurs have mutated and now with some app on their phones they can check whether a woman has worn a bra or not and which colour it is. Not long ago, conmen and women were thought to be prowling in the streets. But now, they are in our living rooms and our lives—we sink together, people.
Our minds are clogged with the ringtones of phones. If it is not the honks of mad drivers, it is the stall metallic doors being shut. And now if the ringtones were not bad enough, we have skiza tunes where we hear the loud Kikamba or Kikuyu or whatever ethnic song ( with no offence meant to any tribe) that we must hear before the other party picks the call. We have no time for meditation. We have no silent moments, some sanctuary we retreat to for a ‘phone sabbatical’ where we shut off the phone and get in touch with our inner selves. And whenever we do so, we are angrily admonished for having our phones off. C’mon, friend, the phone wasn’t supposed to slave us! Besides, I think the last time I checked, I retain a proprietary right on a property that belongs to me.
The phone is a source of our woes. Our lives were simple without phones. We got inconvenienced, yes, most times; but we talked to each other at length without complaining of ‘airtime’ because the airtime was our breath. We talked about so many things in one conversation—how many goats we have had, how many children we now have, whether the stock of our poultry finally multiplied, whether the grandma still wears her brown cardigan—and no one limited us. This was until the airtime was introduced. Over our phones, we talk in short, laconic, abridged sentences, not those long-drawn-out conversations that were keen on detail. We miss on facts, humour and life itself. The English call this summary. I call it the death of oral literature.
Photo Credits: Wired.com
Salem Lorot is a lawyer currently pursuing a post-graduate diploma in law. He is a published poet with a running blog, echoes of the hills, a writer and an avid reader. He has written extensively on a wide range of issues on law and society. He is a connoisseur of the music in East Africa, fashion, cuisine and his regular staple is the entertainment industry with the manifold twists and turns. His interests are informed by themes of social justice and interactions with diverse groups in Kenya.