Tuesday, August 01, 2017

From Siemens A35 to pity

I am hardly a Luddite. I embrace new technology, especially when it is helpful in both my professional and personal life as well as when it is fun to do something new, different and -- be still, my heart, be still -- when it is exciting. It is why I had no trouble, bar the zeros in my bank account balance, in moving from basic mobiles to feature phones to the first Ideos to the Ideos X5 to all the Nokias and Samsungs that followed. I had netbooks before netbooks went out of style. I had tablets before they transmogrified into phablets. I keep two laptops, a robust one that looks like it was issued by a Provincial Commissioner and a svelte one that is more trouble than it is worth, touchscreen-and-stylus notwithstanding. So no, I am not a Luddite.

I wasn't here when it happened, but I was regaled by tales of "Wapi glass ya simu?" in pubs for Kenyans -- Nairobians, really -- to ostentatiously display the new additions to their families. I was happy never to have been the victim of a phone-jacking in the lawless months after Mwai Kibaki was sworn in and before he and Chris Murungaru decided enough was enough and set the Kwekwe Squad on everyone. I missed the hands-free kit madness as well as the bluetooth ludicrousness. What, however, seems to have become a permanent public stain is the bullying mobile phones seem to have inculcated in their users.

In buses and javs, there's the Loud Talker -- both male and female -- who wants their fellow passengers to know that their importance ranks up there with Chris Kirubi, Susan Mboya and Jesus. Loud Talkers come in many types -- the "Yesu Asifiwe" Multi-level Marketing whiz, the "Matapaka" Councillor-wannabe, the twanging Have-I-Got-A-Deal-For-You businessman-on-the-make -- and they all have the ability to ignore the fact that sometimes, just sometimes, commuters on the No. 58 Double-M don't need to know about the mysterious rash in their gentleman's/lady-part's area.

On the streets, there's the This Is My Living Room Talker who more or less commandeers vast swathes of public real estate to conduct a loud and boisterous conversation with the victim of his entreaties. The higher the sums of money he bandies about -- dollars, inevitably -- the louder he gets and the more vigorous his hand gestures as if he were conducting an 88-piece orchestra in which all the musicians had ADD. For women, there's the type that wants privacy in the middle of the pavement -- so she will abruptly stop, her voice will drop to a dramatic whisper, and she will shut out the world as it hers is consumed by the revelations on the other end of the call, a call that will be wrapped up in one of two ways: boisterous laughter or dramatic weeping and shoulder-heaving wailing.

There still a third type of mobile user on the streets: the Oblivious Texter, both male and female of all ages (which came as a bit of a shock). You see them everywhere these days, texting away, slowing down the pace on the pavement to a crawl, forcing the rest of the world to swerve and dodge and, essentially, engage in all the physical elements of a rambunctious rugby scrum without the payoff of a try. They are the selfishest netizens, hellbent in tweeting, facebooking, whatsapping, instagramming and texting -- apparently that still happens -- their way into fame, fortune and nudist infamy. I hate the Oblivious Texter and I marvel at how they have all not been mown down by the murderous members of the PSV driving classes.

Mobiles were supposed to liberate Kenyans from the tyrannies of the Kenya Posts & Telecommunications Corporation. Instead, Kenyans are the enslaved masses of the world wide web and the 'net, faces glued to their screens awaiting the next salacious morsel of slacious innuendo -- or trafficking, avidly, in it -- oblivious of fellow flesh-and-blood humans, cats, dogs, cows (there are a lot of cows in Nairobi, aren't there? Are the Maasai fleeing election hotspots too?) camels, horses and donkeys. Pity.

No comments: