Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Stalker: A Local Story of a Woman Who Gets Called By Her Phone.

Oh yeah- leapfrogging. When a technology is adopted so late in the game that the adopter skips merrily past the costs and technological constraints of earlier models of said technology and arrive fresh at the very edge of things. In East Africa, we have leapt the frog on mobile phones and mobile banking. With the right provider you can pay anyone, find out anything and practically fly any plane with your trusty little made-for-EA Nokia (warranty provided in Kiswahili and English). What's not to like?

Well. My phone has started calling me. To be more specific, my mobile phone service provider has started calling me directly. It all started out innocently enough: Bharti Airtel, the Company Formerly Known as Zain, Formerly Known as Celtel, added a nifty new feature. Every time I made a call, it would let me know how many of my Shillings I'd just tossed their way and my balance. No problemo, for those of us on prepaid it's a handy way to keep track of things.

Then, whenever I would send a text message, the phone would let me know how much it had cost me and efficiently suggest that I send a couple more texts to tap into their gajillion-free-sms a day promotion. Alrighty then, I thought- nothing wrong with a suggestion or two. After all, I am already their customer, right? How nice of them to "save" me some money.

Then one day I made the mistake of checking the day's exchange rate. The next day, I was considerately sent a text with the exchange rate for the currency I had checked up on. Shades of Big Brother, but okay. There was an escape clause (so I thought): you could send the word STOP to their five-digit code. So I did. And lo and behold, the next day I got the exchange rate text again. So I said STOP again. And lo and behold, the next day... you get where this is going don't you.

So now, I get the daily text message I do not want. Every time I talk on the phone I get an instant replay after disconnecting. And every time I text message, the little cheerleader that lives in my phone gets a sugar rush and starts yelling at me to send More! More! More! I thought that this is about as bad as it can get.

Until the day my phone called me. I picked up, thinking that a long local number like this might be attached to a potentially lucrative networking/work connection. "Hello?" I went with Professional Voice- alert and friendly but slightly cool to the touch. Silence. Then the pre-recorded message in Universally Annoying Female Voice began. I had just been cold-called by an android from my phone company to sell me services that I don't want. This, in addition to their newfangled habit (borrowed from Vodacom) of dropping your calls mid-conversation for the fun of it.

No one wants to be called by their phone. Ever. What's next, refrigerators that purse their lips in disapproval every time you reach in for just one "last" slice of chocolate cake?

How marketing departments come up with such evil schemes, I do not know. But there is a special circle of hell for them in the eternal inferno where they are hung upside down with their heads in a boiling river of fire and angry customers pelt them with early-model mobile phones while yelling "One minute for a third of a Shilling!" and "Hallo! Hallo! We Nani? Mzee Juma yupo? Kwani we ni nani?"


  1. In UK a few years back there was a phenomenon of silent calls to landlines. They were blamed on vending machines (!) which were trying to call their 'mothership' to alert them that the vending machine was running out of supplies and needed restocking. All very cunning, but it seems these vending machines were terrible at remembering the correct phone number and so would call one's house instead, but would then stay absolutely silent when one didn't answer with a series of 1s and 0s. Sounds like it should be an urban myth, but a quick google search only turns up vending machines being deadlier than sharks, which is true.

  2. if you call me on Tigo, you get some devotional muslim tune. It's lovely - which is why I saved it from my electrician when I called him once about two years ago. But try to get rid of it? I have to pay. And to keep it? I have to pay. And voda were using scare tactics about tcra sim registration to get people to sign up for mpesa at one point. All poor practice. You could apply for a grant to investigate it of course, and expose the shady world of Tz mobile providers but tigo/voda/celtel money to media dwarfs any such fund.... It's the flipside of our mobile democracy: they are screwing us.

  3. @Steve, @Swahilistreet: arrrgh. I nearly died laughing. Sending you hospital bill by email attachment. so nervous now around vending machines and mobile service promotions... have to go and put on my little tin hat. ehe. um.

  4. LOL... too funny! Will bookmark this blog for sure! Got the address to your blog in the footnote of your article in The EastAfrican. Keep writing!

  5. Elsie - nice comment from Taz there. Your name is growing in font size now; I wonder how many new hits it is going to attract to this beauteeful blog of yours??

  6. @Taz: a Feminist with many interests. Well met, sister :)
    @Anonymous: ... dude. did you just call my font fat? hehe. just kidding. karibu and keep reading ;)


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