Wednesday, July 09, 2008


missingpoints classic: Reinvention
9 May 2003

I remember the first Globe Telecom commercials advertising text messaging. It featured a pair of lovers about to meet at a restaurant. The guy was late and was frantically texting the girl who was getting impatient. When the two finally meet, they talk in sign language. Aside from building recall, it piqued viewers' interest in the new text messaging feature.

The next series of commercials featured a group of architects presenting to a demanding client. As the meeting progressed, they were texting the last-minute revisions to their office. When they got to the site, the revisions were already implemented, showing us the wonders text messaging is capable of.

Those early commercials are a far cry from today's cellphone ads that promise everything from better mother-daughter relationships to fulfilling multi-media addiction.

The introductory phases of new technology always focus on two things: (1) the technological innovation itself and (2) its practical applications. The money however, usually comes from the entertainment / social use (addiction?).

The two earlier commercials were quickly made out of date as the newer, more profitable uses of texting emerged. While a number of us were really utilizing text as a discreet means of communication as in the second commercial, majority were discovering its social applications. From spreading "chismis" to saying "hello" while on the road, texting followed the cyberpunk-posited curve of the street, appropriating new tech for its own purposes. In this case, what was initially conceived as a cute (perhaps-useful) add-on became the single selling point of cellular phones.

The funny thing is, until recently it's still a cute and useful add-on for Americans and Europeans. For them perhaps, the practical (and social) applications do count but are overshadowed by the relative ease and low cost of voice calls or email. Not so here where calls are at least eight times as much and email is not as prevalent. The commercials emphasized the "quick" and "easy" and "innovation" aspect while the (potential) consumers picked up on the "free, unlimited" part. (Yes, boys and girls, we had free unlimited texting back when there was only post-paid)

Necessity is the mother of invention and we Pinoys, who desperately "need" to connect with one another socially, have invented text messaging as the world knows it now.

Thing is, the telecoms had to cash in on this. I still remember the minor uproar the new texting rates caused. The small number who have already been hooked on free texting had to contend with the imposition of charges. This started the multi-million peso text industry that is still reaping cash. What was initially a fun and cheap and easy way to connect has become a necessity for everyone, from CEOs to teenagers.

This is where the problem comes in. Smart's new "Addict" service sums it up for us nicely: we have become addicts to a feature that we initially appropriated for our own use. Now our entire society is built on texting. Deals are discussed through text, appointments set and re-set, and relationships made and broken all in the cyber domain of text. Everyone from government officials to CEOs to high school kids absolutely "needs" to have a cellphone. The very thing we discovered has totally changed our lives.

We have reinvented it and it has reinvented us in return.


Francis Ocoma said...

Speaking of social applications of SMS, if you think people are addicted to texting now, just wait till txt-enabled microblogging (e.g. Twitter) becomes popular! Even now I'm receiving half a dozen tweets or more on my phone every day from various sources (human or otherwise), some of which are also sent via SMS. I sometimes catch myself texting tweets as mundane as "I'm tired. Going to sleep"! (Of course I have justifications for it...but I shouldn't go too off-topic.)

Although I concede that ending a relationship via SMS is definitely too anti-social, I'm not against the idea of a tool "changing our lives"... if that means creating new possibilities, or at least making things more efficient (think: wheel)... and if it's not inherently immoral.

Of course, as I work in a company that wouldn't even exist without SMS, I'm slightly biased. :-P

missingpoints said...

Wasn't there an imam in Malaysia who declared that texting "I divorce you" thrice is valid?