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Raffique Shah


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Consumerism gone mad

April 30, 2006
By Raffique Shah

IT is one thing to open up the market so that new providers of cellular phone services can challenge TSTT's monopoly in this sector. It's quite another, though, to see tonnes of people fighting and crushing each other as they seek to cash in on the seductive offers being made by both providers. With every man, woman, child, dog and hog now equipped with mobile phones, this is not simply a case of consumerism gone mad, but a manifestation of a nation that will consume itself to death in short time.

I understand fully the frustrations TSTT customers have had to endure for what seems to have been "ages". At a personal level, about two years ago I applied to TSTT for another land line, the only reason being when I'm on the Internet people cannot reach me. I have given up on that. The company's mobile phone service is another horror story. Advertisements aplenty show seemingly satisfied customers beaming: "Now I talking in Tortuga!" Yeah, right! Trying to reach anyone, more so on another mobile phone, and worse if it's on weekends, is a form of torture. Then without explanation, my GSM phone cannot accommodate voice messages from those who fail to get through to me, or I to them.

So I attempt to call TSTT's customer service to find out what the hell is happening. More torture: no way can I get through. On the Internet, I am disconnected on at least four occasions for every hour I spend online. I have learned to live with these woeful services, to suffer in silence, because I refuse to genuflect to anyone at TSTT, seek any favours from the high and mighty. I imagine there are tens of thousands of people who are subjected to similar subhuman treatment by a utility that has made billions of dollars off us-for piss-poor services!

But do I rush into the waiting arms of Digicel in the hope that I'll receive superior service? No way, Jose. I read extensively and I know that all these providers are not necessarily better than TSTT, so I am not hastening to jump from the frying pan into the fire. This does not mean I am promoting TSTT. It's merely a case of tolerating the devil I know (a mean SOB, I need add) and not trusting the one I don't. Like calypsonian Rio, I am seriously considering "going back to basics".

Having griped about TSTT's crap service, let me now examine the jungle-like consumerism that is consuming people out there. Few among the wealthy would subject themselves to the humiliating abandon that erupts every time a new super offer is made.

In any event, they and their kids already have the finest model mobiles. Now it's the turn of the middle to lower classes to grab for the goodies being flung their way. Bearing in mind the adage "there's no such thing as a free meal", I add there's nothing like a free phone. They are all tied into some unexplained "packages" for which money must be forked out. So when a home in which food for everyone is a challenge to the breadwinners becomes equipped with ten mobile phones, what is sacrificed to meet the must-pay bills?

I think education suffers, since children will find ways of keeping their phones up and buzzing even if it means sacrificing books, meals, not to add stealing money to sustain their "habit". They become phone addicts, little different to alcoholics or cocaine addicts. Ostensibly, these phones are deemed a safety tool in order for parents to stay in touch with their children. In reality children spend more time "texting" crap to their friends all day, playing games, using their mini-cams, listening to music, among other trivial uses. It's money wasted, money that could be used to uplift people's standard of living, saved for future education, allow for better housing and many other basic needs than talking on a damn mobile all day.

Let me make it clear that I am not against the wonders of technology, of people having access to them.

But I am worried that with mobile phones, MP3 players and such gizmos being the tin gods of the young, we are sowing the seeds of techno-implosion brought about by excessive consumerism and uncontrollable debts. To underscore my point, in consumer-crazy America, personal debts have soared past the US$1 trillion mark. Is this where we want to take our society? Are these the materialistic values we want to implant in the minds of the young and later, when they commit crimes to live the good life, we scream: Oh Gawd! Wey we went wrong?

We took a wrong turn many moons ago when we registered our TV sets as official "parents" to our children, and fast-foods their chefs. Now we are courting disaster by cultivating in them an insatiable appetite for everything flashy, fashionable. The free market is sure as hell taking us back into debt slavery.