The mobile phone: A necessary evil


WITH all the benefits that modern technology brings, I have reservations on the mobile phone as a good thing. I’m not against technological progress and the mobile phone is now an indispensable piece of equipment in communications at work and at play but for me personally, it brings more pain than joy.

It is just a necessary evil. I will elaborate my reasons below. For me reason number one is the ease with which people can now bring their financial and other problems to me. I am not rich, not affluent, not anything to do with having money but it appears there are people who are worse off than me. It is easy for those people to get to me wherever I am to say, “E bwana hata elfu kumi tu, leo hali mbaya!”.

Ok, I do it too sometimes but that’s my point “Kupiga mizinga kumekuwa rahisi mno.” Even if you are out of town, you are not safe; “tuma tu kwa ‘empesa’ au ‘eatel money.’’… I travel to places hundreds of kilometres away and the people at home still say “Baba umeme umekwisha; luku, tunaomba utununulie.” Reason number two; one becomes too accessible no private time.

In the old days when I was a maintenance engineer at a factory we sometimes had weekend maintenance. If you choose, you could make yourself inaccessible by disappearing from the office radar screens for the weekend by just not being at home when they sent the company driver to fetch you for an emergency.

Nowadays a worker is on call 24/7. It is hell. And it is supposed to be unethical to switch off your phone. Reason number three. There’s more bad news than good news in the world. Most of it comes through the phone. Watu wanaokudai.

Madai Bank sends you messages and warnings about your defaulting status through the phone. And of course other guys who lent you money convey their threats about auctioning your assets through the phone.

If they call, they are anonymous, protected by distance and can say what they like. If it was face to face, they would be more careful by judging your reaction to their words; there is more respect in direct communication because you could get physical or the other person sees the human being at the receiving end of his message… Reason number four.

There are too many lies being created by the circumstances of the mobile phone. I was once in a daladala to Tabata. I could overhear a lady sitting next to me saying on the phone, “Nipo nyumbani, ukija utanikuta ” , apparently as an answer to a question from the speaker at the other end of the line.

She then hurriedly got off the bus at the next stop, obviously to ‘convert’ her lie into the truth. This reminds me of a joke about a lady who always went to town with a blender and a power cable.

When her jealous husband called, she would reply that she was in the kitchen. To verify this, the husband usually told the wife “If you are in the kitchen, switch on the blender, I want to hear it.”

…and so the wife had developed the habit of moving about town with the blender. Another reason is that the mobile phone can bring unnecessary stresses into a relationship. Even though it is now almost unthinkable, how one could court without the mobile phone these days, it has made the process of creating a relationship almost too easy, with the social media, Facebook, WhatsApp and all the myriad ways of communicating on the internet.

It is easy to make relationships and just as easy to break them. For married couples who do not have the maturity, the phone numbers, calls and messages in the device can easily bring upheaval in the family. A mobile phone is now indispensable.

It is also costly. Every day we buy ‘bundles’ of data and voice time. Whether we talk sweet nothings to our loved ones or send work details and business plans to our colleagues and subordinates, it all costs money.

We are irretrievably hooked. As if all the problems I’ve mentioned above are not enough, the marketing people from mobile phone companies are driving us crazy with all sorts of promotions.

Lotteries, new ‘products’ and packages which are supposed to be cheaper and so on and so forth. Going through these ‘menus’ is like doing an exam. There are mountains of reports on usage and so on and so forth which really should have come only upon request, but they all draw the attention of the user and obviously use some of the storage space in the device…

The devices are now so complicated one needs a college degree to use only a tiny fraction of the potential capabilities of these machines… I expect it is only the new generations that will keep up.

I am exhausted already. Then there are our social manners. I suspect that in a few years interpersonal communications will die out altogether and each one of us will be ‘googling’ our way through everything.

Many of us are already interacting more with the phone than our spouses. Where will the phone take us next? Let’s wait and see.

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