Imagine this scenario. A group of Jamaican electronics distributors decide that the general public are too ignorant of some of the most famous electronic devices on Earth, and thus hold a conference to educate the hoi polloi on these gadgets, never mind the fact that these gadgets have already saturated the public imagination through music videos, advertisements and social media.
Imagine that, the audience of programmers, mobile developers, gadget salespeople, and technicians are to be educated about the technical specifications and system software of these gadgets – by the Marketing department.
Imagine that these Marketers, who are supposed to be skilled in demographics, market segmentation, product cycles and the economic condition of Jamaica, decide to highlight exclusively high-end phones, to a public that not only is undergoing wage freezes and a depreciating currency, but only changes phones every three to four years. Never mind that one of those phones could buy a taxi cab, or pay for half a preparatory or tertiary school education for a year.
No need to imagine this. I experienced this personally Wednesday evening at the “Too Smart 2 Be True” conference held at the Waterfalls on Old Hope Road. In the relatively short time that I could endure the presentation, I had my intelligence molested by what must have had been the most condescendingly vapid set of presenters that could Jamaica’s main electronics distributors could have had found.
One presenter did not understand the security model behind Free-Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS). When he compared Android to iOS, he believed that the ability to read the source code put the Android FLOSS at a disadvantage, when no hacker with any sense is going to read through thousands of lines of source code to find vulnerabilities anyway. There are enough tools available to reveal what functions, API/ABI calls or libraries any software, FLOSS or proprietary is using. After that it is simply a matter of the usual smash stack, buffer overflow mischief. Another mistook Windows 8 for the Windows Phone 8 on the Nokia Lumia 925, continuously repeating that the phone was running the desktop OS. Yet another repeated the above FLOSS fallacy, while advertising the Samsung Galaxy S4. That was about as much as I could endure without LMAOing at the people’s fancy presentation.
The general aim of the ”presentation” was to for the marketers educate technically-minded persons on technical specifications of various gadgets that most technically minded people have already memorized by heart. While I would have loved to be in whatever meeting vomited forth that idea, I learnt some very important things from that conference. Not so much learnt, but crystallized, as much of these ideas have been floating around the Jamaican technical collective unconscious for some time now. These ideas can be distilled into four commandments:
- Thou shalt exhalt thine smartphone, for expensive is the way to heaven: A “techie” is no longer a person who is theoretically and technically skilled at scientific, computational, or electronic techniques, whether credentialed or not, but merely someone who is able to rattle off the various specifications of whatever expensive device they have chosen to purchase. Understanding the software they are using how the software mods actually affect the phone, the difficulty of writing parallel/concurrent code to run one their many-core fancy phones is not a priority. They just need the phone to be expensive, like buying a Porsche, but not bothering to understand the engine.
- There is but one God, and his prophet is Steve Jobs. Honour his name, and keep it holy: The techie does not owe his allegiance to a particular local group of similar minded friends, or even an organization. Instead, his loyalty is to the particular brand of smartphone that he, and whatever friends he has. Brand loyalty thus functions as a replacement for any useful political or social ideology. And remember, down with M$, up with Open Source!!!
- Render onto the workplace what is the workplace’s and render onto the workplace what is God’s: Even if you have failed to become a techie after the presentation, you will still need this expensive smartphone if you want to be of any use in your current job. Don’t you want to increase your productivity? Don’t you want to keep you shit job? You think that those degrees and certifications matter? Not as much as this smartphone! In the future, we will all be contractors, so not only will we need Reliable Motor Vehicles, but Reliable Smartphones as well (I’m not kidding, this was actually said)! The fact this represents a significant rollback of worker’s rights and guarantees is irrelevant, what matters is that you should buy this expensive phone!
- Thou shalt upgrade frequently, whether or not you want or need to, as it is Invention that is the mother of Necessity: I have a new phone that I want to sell you. Its got a 200 terapixel camera, 936 cores, 17 terabytes of memory and 42 petabytes of onboard storage. The screen is also 121 gigapixels and can give direct UltraHDMI via the port that you should have on the back of your neck. What’s that? You only want to type up some text messages, do some minor office work and shoot a few short movies? Why are you so primitive? Don’t you want me to meet my sales quota this month want to unlock the full features of your mobile life? Don’t you know how much better your life would be if buy this expensive phone with features you didn’t even know that you want, or need?
When you combine the above ideals together, you can see that the distributors and retailers of electronics in Jamaica have been trained to sell to a first world, consumerist society. The fact that we inhabit a small country, whose currency is constantly weakening against the US dollar and lack the necessary household income or credit market to afford those gadgets is irrelevant. They have sales targets to meet so rather than adjust their business strategy to focus on the Jamaican market; they try to sell us phones – that are subsidized by American carriers- at full price. The sad thing is that they did have a good phone for the Jamaican market – the Nucleo Fusion. But as a cheap non-name phone with only the features one needs, it violates three of the commandments, and was not a priority at the presentation.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that such consumerist silliness would come from Watts New- the organizer of Too Smart 2 Be True. This is a series of stores that sold the Playstation 2 at a price so expensive that it was actually cheaper to buy a cheap overnight ticket to Miami and buy it – and you would still have money left over for an extra controller, and a copy of Zone of the Enders. This is better now, with the maturation of online shopping and Their pricing strategy does not seem to come from a place of incompetence, but a complete inability to empathize with Lower Middle Class Jamaicans, who not only make up the majority of the population but would be most in need for a device to supplement – or replace – their aging computers. These are the guys at UTECH with the netbooks, cheapo tablets and plasticky laptops. No Apple for them, that money has to pay their school fees.
The funny thing is, for all their fetishizing of high end phones, that is not the future. Companies like Nokia and Samsung are working hard to capture India and Brazil with phones, similar to that of the Nucleo Fusion. The major manufacturers know that high end, easily destroyed fancy phones are not ideal for poor third world countries, but durable smartphones that can sell for less 100USD, and can replace the cheap feature phones that many of us carry around. That is the future. Hopefully Watts New and the rest won’t be too dumb to catch up with it.