“The other day I read with deep interest an impassioned facebook statement by one of my friends. Her iphone had been stolen and she used facebook to tell the thieves that they would not be able to use her device, it would be as she put it just a ” brick” for them. She would also “remote control” everything they tried to do with it. But luckily because she had a contract – she was in the process of getting a new one, and was very grateful to the staff at Vodacom for being so efficient in getting her re-connected again. I understood her anger and felt a lot of sympathy for her because loosing a phone, or a personal computer is among the most annoying things on earth. An administrative, logistical challenge of note. Although in the end they all don’t matter as much as we think they do. Nevertheless…though I was grateful that my phone and I were still going strong for close to five years, I didn’t anticipate that I too would suffer the same fate so soon after I read her facebook update.”
My used to be smart phone also known to many as a Blackberry mysteriously disappeared between a pavement and the car. I remember holding my device in my hands in the car wanting to charge it after the battery failed while listening to my favorite tune of the month ( Adore You by Miley Cyrus – can’t get enough of the strings in this tune) . I took it lightly thinking it would turn up somewhere. However after numerous searches, through my bag, in between the sofas, turning my room upside down, and even driving to the last spot where I had been before I climbed into the car, there was still no phone. It was not in the car nor in my possession. Encouraged by the fact that when I called it, it was ringing I was hopeful that any minute now I would find it. Despite growing concerns from my mother and sister who started pacing up and down the house in prayer, I was confident that it would turn up somewhere. Tired of the search, I decided to relax and be at home and just spend time with my mother and sister consoling them that all is well in my heart. I decided to forget just for a little while about the outside world which is always in easy access through the phone on facebook checking the latest updates, trending tweets, bbm messages, phone calls, emails and text messages. ( as If get a lot of those!)
Despite the fact that the phone had not turned up anywhere. I decided to remain cool, as of course, loosing my cool even just to express anger and frustration would not miraculously make the phone re-appear. I still hoped that it would turn up, in the car maybe. To make up for the ‘free-time” created by its absence, I decided to continue reading in my room and eventually finished a book I had started two weeks earlier. I also used the time to draft a proposal for a show I would love to do. Followed up on some emails using my brother’s computer. Helped my brother fix a window. Noting my silence and growing distance my mother and sister regularly checked up on me inquiring often ” how are you?” are you sure you’re “okay” I replied yes to all those questions and felt touched by their concern. My mother even returned from one of her errands with a chicken treat for me and continued to encourage me saying all will be fine. It was as if I had lost someone really close to me – which in some ways was true but that someone in this case was a thing. That could be very easily replaced. Or so I thought.
I think by this time the denial phase had reached its climax and I had to admit that if I had not found it by now, three days in, it was very unlikely that I would find it again. My heart started sinking as I thought of the many numbers I had acquired over the years – contacts – are what makes for a good journalist. In this profession your net-work IS your net- worth according to general standards, actually people get hired for their contacts more often than they are for their journalistic abilities. Trust me I know. I tried to console myself that those contacts had been there for years and had not really been of any benefit to me personally or helped further my career professionally in any way, especially in my quest in recent years to launch a career as an independent/freelance journalist in Senegal. And those contacts who had been of great assistance to me, I am still l in touch with and could find them via email or through other social media networks. But still the idea of having to start over, from scratch was a bit overwhelming. On this day I was also at work, so I had access to a land-line telephone to make calls. Simple things like someone saying … I’ll call you back …were not so simple anymore. Or leaving messages, people often require to be sent a text message (so they can evaluate their response or avoid creditors calling or chat to you while sitting with someone else ). As it happens people hardly listen or respond to voice messages on their phones. It is of course assumed that everyone should have a cellphone and should naturally be able to send a text msg – if anything they have to say is worth reading. I have heard many women say ” I won’t date a man or woman for that matter who sends me a “Please call me Message ” something akin to an SOS to the professional middle class independent woman. ( A ” Please call me is a” free text msg you get via all the major cellphone networks in South Africa ( CELL C, VODACOM, MTN, 8TA) asking people to call you. It’s like a collect call for those who can still remember what that is) . They don’t want to be associated with poverty, in any way. Which is fair, since love in our days does depend largely on how much one makes or is able to contribute financially to said union or coupling. In addition I also had to make verbal agreements with my father to pick me up at a certain spot and be there at the agreed time because I would not be able to contact him otherwise and visa versa once outside the office since public phones have become almost extinct in many towns and cities unless you live in a historically black (non-white) township where you can still find them more easily. While at the office I called my bank to see if I qualified for one of their smart phones on offer, which I didn’t, I need to have a certain amount of money in my bank account for over three months (R5,000 ZAR/ USD 500). Call back when you have money they said. I thanked them
I finally decided to start the process of acquiring a new phone. First I decided on doing a sim-swop. A procedure which allows you to used the same (old) number on a new phone or sim-card: at least that way my contacts can use the same number to call if they so wish. I went into the Vodacom store… and asked to do a sim-swap. ” Are you on contract or Pre-paid?” the sales person asked. “I am on pre-paid” I replied. Pre-paid is a pay as you go service which allows you to purchase airtime ( talking credit) with cash as when you can afford it, while a contract means you buy and use the phone on credit and then pay a lumpsome for the phone and the services (airtime, data bundles etc) at the end of the month . On prepaid to do a sim-swap you need : Your Identity Document ( green id book in South Africa), proof of residence, five regularly dialed numbers, and 20 ZAR for the actual sim- swap to take place. I produced my ID and the proof of residence, my father’s water and lights bill. The salesman took one look at it and said, but that is not your name on the bill. I said true but that is my father’s name and as you can see we share the same surname, not only that but my Id book has the same address on the back. No can do said the salesman, you must have your name on it, if not then you must go to the city council to have them confirm that you live with your father. Since when ? I asked, How will they know that I live with my father? There’s no freedom in this country is there ?– I felt the words escaping from my mouth unguarded “What do you mean? the salesman asked as if interested. Well I’m sure you would not need all of this information had I been on contract, it’s because I own my phone and pay according to what I can afford that you require all this ” I responded. You are correct he replied. If you were on contract all we would need is your ID document and bob’s your uncle. But hey don’t question me, ask Vodacom ( the cellphone service provider) they make the rules. He was right. Rules are Rules. “So what is the cheapest phone on pre-paid (cash) on sale here” I asked.”Our phones start at 3,000 rands ( +_300 USD) and upwards, try other shops” he said. I walked out feeling discarded like a piece of gum. In the car on the way back home I recounted the story to my mother and brother. My brother then surmised “In other words they’re saying get a contract” I agreed . A normal Cellphone contract in South Africa ties you to a phone and service provider for 24 moths, two years. the first 12 months you pay for the cost of the phone, the second is interest – which is the same price as the phones plus added charges which include additional airtime etc. People say it works out cheaper – if you are permanently employed and are sure you will have a job for the next 24 months, and will have that 300 rands plus to pay for your phone every month which on overage depending on how often you’re on your phone averages to more than 1000-2000 ZARs a month. ( 100-200 USD). And if you’re a short-term contractor, a domestics worker, an informal settlement dweller with no physical address, a freelancer …? if you don’t own a home or have bills….? Are suddenly unable to pay ? well then ” what do you expect us to do?” you will be blacklisted with a bad credit record ( even though you don’t actually have any ‘credit” not having any record of credit equals a bad credit record. good credit is having debt and paying it timely every month for as long as you shall live) ….you shall also be hounded, harassed and badgered until you can pay the last cent. The cellphone rules are largely due to new laws in South Africa introduced a couple of years ago initially to combat “crime” known as the : “Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Information Act” or RICA for short. Which have not reduced crime by any stretch of the imagination since they were introduced. Criminals will always find a way to do crime – even using the same laws introduced to prevent said crime. The result has not made life any easier for citizens like myself who are not criminals or have any criminal intent other than to live within our means.
I have now cleaned my room, ironed by suitcase full of clothes, cleared my bag of clutter, masked my face and read as much as I could stomach. My fingers are itchy, i miss the blue and white of facebook, the flashing red light of a bbm msg… my antique ring-tone. I miss touching my phone, listening to music on it – going online and reading stuff. I miss having my own stuff. I don’t know what’s happening in the world. But 30 min browsing though the news channels from Aljazeera, Russia TV, ANN7, eNCA to SABC news leave much to be desired. It’s as if I’m watching the same bulletin across all four channels, broadcasting from different geographical locations, the same story over and over and over again. In fact not much seems to have changed since I last saw my phone. Clearly I am not missing out on much in the world. I laugh as I recall a conversation with a Mr Andre who I met the day before, at a local coffee shop. He interrupted my journaling and started up a conversation which ended up with him offering me the use of his cell-phone to make a call if I need to since – he said – I look like someone who has lost an arm. I believe cell-phones are a curse he says to me, do you ever think about that? he asked. ” not until now that I don’t have a phone, I responded, but I was just wondering what life was like without them” I say. ” People lie on cellphones, they are somewhere they are not” I agreed recalling the many times when I would say I’ll be there now-now or on my way or am just around the corner just to appease an impatient voice on the other end of the line. Not having a cell-phone opened me up to both the negative and the positive sides of having and not having a phone. A new world were -I- not the device had all the power. We have become too dependent on these devices, for self-confidence, for affirmations, for love, for communication, for anything we need, and have somehow forgotten the people who come knocking at our doors, to check if we’re okay, or bring us treats, or hugs – the people in our everyday physical lives. We judge our worth increasingly by our social media network. We also don’t spend enough time alone even, in silence, contemplating nothing – being OK with ourselves. We are full of noise, from TV, Friends , the constant flow of information, incessant talking, loud music, movies… silence is something we don’t really know – peace is something we don’t understand. We say we want it but really we are not ready to take the steps to achieve a state of peacefulness. I have come to appreciate silence. Wow. It’s beautiful to fall asleep naturally because your body is ready to sleep, in a quite room, with a quite heart and mind. I found such peace when I relaxed and stopped worrying about the phone – or being on the computer. It doesn’t matter. Those who really want to get in touch with me will find me. It’s not about being hard to get, it’s really too easy to find people nowadays – if you’re seriously looking for them. I found peace. In knowing that I am valuable. Jedi – the human, the person, without a gadgets, no extras, not apps.no wireless – with not network or net worth. In my natural human state I am of utmost value. Worthy. Everything else is an extension of the beauty that IS me – who is beautiful. Not the PHONE. Like a baby. We love and care for it – just as it is mute, toothless , we just love it. I learnt to love myself just like that in complete silence. I felt no need to be anywhere else, to talk or make speeches like I am now … I was content in the silence in being – just – human. I’m so grateful for this experience – I love it. I found that life is easier when you let it flow. Naturally. I bring, add value to the gadgets and every thing else that I use – They money, laptops, cars, clothes, all things are valuable because of ME. I am the one who ADDs value to them not the other way around. I give value to things, things don’t give value to me. Because I am the real deal. I am the Original. I am.
Okay I have to find a phone somehow at the very least so I can be accessible for work and make life for those who live with me a little easier. Because even if I by this time had become accustomed to the art of being – without a phone, others were not, and my getting a phone might make their lives easier. My mother can call me if she needs to and so too can my father. Since I am often away from home it makes sense. Plus I have responsibilities at work. So I decide to try again and walk into a PEP-cell store were I got a really smart – smart -phone, with a built-in radio! (score!!) and Android capabilities for less than a thousand ZAR, way less than a thousand bucs actually that along with access to all the social networking channels and then some. My first touch phone ever. I am still waiting for my sim card to “register” or to be RICArd or to finally work. But at the very least I can listen to the radio even if I cannot as yet make or receive calls. And the great thing about this is…. I find that happily – I prefer the silence. That is the best Connection.
Phones are just tools – things we use to make life easier – to communicate better. They are not to be used as barriers to communication or human relationships ( I’m almost sure I was dumped once because I didn’t own an iphone! of course I could be very wrong about this, but it’s what I choose to believe – it’s funny.) But they cannot and will never replace real human beings. Who need just as much attention, love, care,dedication and time we give to the objects in our lives. We must never forget that we not the machines decide. We not the machines are in control. We must not allow ourselves to be so addicted to things that we become isolated and communicate only with the screens in front of us. Yes I know I am on the screen myself.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand or identify with something until it happens to you or someone close to you. Until you experience it. From a personal and collective level, I think we all need to start using the tools ( phones/ laptops) for the betterment of humanity and not the other way round. People, human Beings matter. PEOPLE should and must come first before any iPhone, Ipad, Pad, laptop etc. Most of all before – people must always come before : MONEY. I have walked into families, into rooms and spaces where people ( I count myself among those ) were engrossed deeply in their phones or laptops without ever acknowledging each other’s presence, not even stopping to look each other in the eyes, just offering mere grunts in begrudging acknowledgement – it’s sad to witness and be party to that. Some things will never change. After all when the electricity dies, and you can’t charge your phone or ipad, you will still need a pen and paper. Life is about creating deeper, beautiful and more meaningful connections with each other that will last for lifetimes, it’s about finding and exploring ways in which we can come towards each other, move closer and closer together mind, body and spirit. It’s not about getting further and further apart ….
Because when it comes down to it, there is nothing sweeter or more precious than a face to face conversation, or a touch from someone who loves and cares about
you deeply and whose love you equally share and cherish.
No amount of Facebooking , tweeting, social networking whats’pping or blogging will ever, ever replace that. Not even MONEY!
So make it count.
LOVE. LOOK UP!