Dear Mobile Network Operators,
This is an open letter to tell you it’s over between us.
I once thought you loved me. I really did. You brought me the future. You placed in my hands a tool that transported me into tomorrow.
The mobile phone was the embodiment of my science fiction dreams come true. It allowed me to talk to anyone from anywhere, as long as I had their number and they were willing to answer my call. You gave me a message service that was faster than a telegram. You even gave me the Internet on the move.
I remember like yesterday the moment, now almost two decades ago, when I sent an email from a laptop computer connected to a newfangled device called a “data card”, which plugged into my cellphone. Somewhere on the N1 highway between Trompsburg and Bloemfontein, the impossible became reality, thanks to your warm embrace of my needs, my devices and my future.
I returned the love, of course, although it appeared to go unnoticed. Do you know you’ve never thanked me for my loyalty? Oh yes, you kept telling me you loved me, especially when it came time to renew my vows every two years.
But something else. You took my affections for granted. You even drastically forced up the amount I had to pay, using something called the interconnect fee, which wasn’t even part of your cost of providing the service.
When you were told to stop making me pay so much, you resisted like a raging tiger. Do you know how much that hurt, after all my years of devotion? You didn’t respect me anymore.
Naturally, I found solace elsewhere. Instant messaging (IM) came calling, seducing me with the offer to send a text message at a fraction of a cent instead of paying close to a rand for an SMS.
Please don’t think I’m a cheap date: it wasn’t just the price. IM allowed me to keep conversations together, add photos, and even send messages composed entirely of smiley faces and hearts. And all the while, your SMS had the same tired look that once had seemed so fresh. I have to be blunt here: while BBM, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Facebook Messenger all kept getting better, you didn’t make even the barest effort to look good for me.
Now they offer something even more enticing: voice calls over your data service. I really thought you would be able to live with that, as it keeps me coming back for your expensive data, even while I’m in bed with these cheap surrogates. Instead, you’ve gone running to the Government, asking it to make them behave, just like you tried to persuade it to allow your interconnect abuse.
These services are my new future. They allow me, sometimes, to escape your cruel love. But you begrudge me even that respite. You are declaring to the world, loudly, that you really don’t love me.
And that’s why it’s over between us. You might succeed in chasing away my new loves, but there will be others. The future is arriving faster and faster, and you can’t hold it back. The more you try, the more ways I will find to bypass you. The more you try to keep me chained to your past, the more I will find ways to slip away into the future.
Your hopelessly devoted customer
- Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee. This article first appeared in his Signpost column in the Business Times section of the Sunday Times.