A Firsthand Report on Cellphone Deportment in the Developing World

This post finishes a two-part set of guest posts on the topic of cellphones in the developing world by my cousin, Jon Chalmers. Jon is a missionary in Mombosa, Kenya with Africa Inland Mission. The first post was called “Cellphone Economics in the Developing World” and is definitely worth reading before you begin this article.

Cellphones are ubiquitous in Kenya! You see all kinds of cellphones; from units that are falling apart to premium models. I have seen phones with elastic bands wrapped around them to keep the unit together, to the classic cracked screen…but all that matters is that they work! On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to see people with Blackberry’s, high end HTC’s, or even iPhones.

There are several ways we have noticed people behaving differently because of cellphones. Since everyone in Kenya has a cell-phone they are always looking at them. What is funny is that so many people are looking at their cell-phones but not even reading a new message. It’s just what makes them feel comfortable. You can sometimes catch people looking and relooking at messages from Safaricom or Airtel. The phone becomes the excuse not to look at other people in the face just like in Canada. Cellphones also become badges of importance: having it and being busy on it makes you look very important to those watching. I can’t help but wonder what it will do to the African culture of hospitality and sharing in life together for the generations to come??

One other interesting tidbit about cellphones that absolutely fascinated my parents who just came for a visit is that every cellphone here gets FM radio, even very cheap models. I am not sure if that is the case at home but here that is a standard feature.  So, you often see young men sitting around just listening to the radio on their phone, whether it’s for a big English Premier Soccer match or the local news.

As for me personally, my cellphone behavior has totally changed. As I said in my previous post, we were not heavy cellphone users in Canada, but I WOULD BE LOST without my cellphone now!! It’s the way I organize transportation, prepare to meet with people, check up on friends back home via Facebook, check the news to see what is happening in our area, plus all the apps I use via Android. Currently, I am using a Samsung mini-galaxy. It was the cheapest smart phone I could find here. Also, our cellphones have become a serious part of safety and security for life here. We keep tabs on the whereabouts of everyone in our family. We can also quickly connect with our contacts and call our organization if something is happening that we need help with.

The other thing is that texting has become essential for life and for ministry! It’s so easy to communicate. I have started texting a new Christian daily with motivational words, verses, etc. to one of my contacts. He is a Tuk Tuk driver and is moving all over the city all day. He doesn’t have much time to interact with other Christians but still wants to grow in the Lord. It’s become a great tool! We often text thoughts and prayer requests back and forth as he waits for another customer.

Just yesterday, we actually gave a basic cell-phone to a 18 year old I have been mentoring.  He gave his old phone away to someone else in his family and hasn’t had one for months. He has been lost without a phone and every week he comes over to visit us and use my phone for half an hour calling all his family around Kenyato make sure everyone is OK. Anyway, he was thrilled almost to tears for receiving this basic phone. It has no options, but he said he couldn’t sleep because he was so excited to have it.  The thing he told us about texting was that us “white’s” or “mzungu’s” like to text while Africans like to call! I told him part of the reason I prefer texting is because I struggle over the phone just picking up the Kenya English accent that is spoken here.  It is fine in person but on the phone it becomes very difficult! He laughed at me!

You can follow Jon and Ami’s blog at: http://jachalmers.blogspot.ca/

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2 responses to “A Firsthand Report on Cellphone Deportment in the Developing World

  • Josh

    Very interesting stuff… I was thinking about this today, and was curious: what is known about cell phone usage in restricted nations?

    I was thinking about the difficulty involved in getting the scriptures into those areas (where people can be arrested and killed for being caught with a Bible), and was wondering if cell phones could be a medium for spreading the scriptures in those environments. The first usage that i thought of was somehow making an encrypted file available (through internet transfer or even Bluetooth if in close proximity), which could then be decrypted through a smart phone app of some type… From there I became curious of the possibility of using the same idea for low end phones… Has there been anything like this happening anywhere around the world that you know of?

    • joshthejuggler

      Hey Josh,

      Thanks for the comment!

      I don’t know of anything that is exactly like what you are describing. Al Mohler did mention how smart phones are making it harder and harder for North Korea to maintain its power.

      I quote: “It turns out that among the many contagions that can come into a culture, even a supposedly closed culture, is the cell phone. And once you have it, it is very difficult to trace.” Apparently the cell phones are being smuggled in from Egypt. Mohler ends by quoting an expert on North Korea who says: “Time is not on their side, cellphones are going to get them in the end.”

      If you ever find out more about this be sure to let me know!

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