Ringtomania threatens my sanity…

“Become a member of our exclusive club and get ring tones for free”, flashes in bold animated characters across television screens in South Africa. Tucked up in the corner is a little box stating that this is a subscription service – charging you “XXX/per week”. Near the bottom of the screen, against a transparent background, the commercial states “terms and conditions apply”. However, when you take a closer look at the “terms and conditions”, you’ll discover ….

  • “Free” airtime minute rates do not apply (because the service provider makes its money from your airtime!).
  • Errors billed. This means that when you start downloading a ring tone (after having become a ‘member’ of course), you will still be charged – meaning the service provider will grab your airtime for the download, regardless of whether you have the ring tone or not.
  • To become a member, you have to send a SMS to a particular number. After you have done this – at the cost of your SMS – the service provider now has access to you via your cell number.

It takes all types of people to make this world of ours ring true. Some will happily part with their cell numbers without a second thought. My annoyance with “ringtomania” hit the ceiling  when the “fart” ringtone was the rave of ringtomalia. In my world, your ringtone is part of “who you are” .  Things you like or dislike give others a glimpse of who you are. I was not amused when someone’s phone started “farting” during a workshop I attended yesterday. The workshop dealt with serious issues and the “farting” noise made everyone in the room cringe – it was totally inappropriate under the circumstances.

Advertisements on television always make me smirk, but the ones about the “latest” ring tone that you “must have” because “everyone else has it” invariably make me switch the channel. Besides, how many ring tones do you really need? Although not the most creative, sassy and hip, ring tones “pre-loaded” onto your cellphone should be more than enough. Pick one you like and stick with it. On the other hand, will you at least change it from the standard “Nokia” tone to something less obvious.

Season 1, Episode 1 of “Ringtomania”. Be on the lookout for Episode 2 … soon.

Programming future users ….

Much has been said about the “deal” between Microsoft and the South African Department of Education (DOE). In essence, the deal involves a “re-commitment” of an agreement signed between the DOE and Microsoft in 2002. However, the deal had a sunset clause … that it would come to an end in 2007/8. The latest deal (2008) apparently promises free software “for as long as it takes”.

A quick search on the internet will give you an idea why such a deal would not be struck with governments in the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States. The controversy in these countries centres around giving “preferential treatment” to a particular software company/vendor in their education systems. Activists in these countries have raised the issues of “freedom of choice”, arguing that the role of education in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) is to school pupils in the range of communication tools and applications options available – including Open Source -.

In the European Union, where Microsoft has locked horns with its parliament over a number of issues, governments actively encourage local councils and government departments to switch to Open Source ICT solutions. In South Africa, where a decision was announced (made?) to commit to the use of FOSS (Free Open Source Software in the public service (which would include schools?) . Striking a deal with Microsoft, accepting its “gift” sends the message to future users that computer … sorry, Microsoft “skills” are essential.

Even more baffling is the South African government’s decision to adopt the Open Document Format (ODF) as a national  official (SABS) standard for its documents. Microsoft, instead of joining the drive towards an open international standard, chose to make a bid to patent its own “international open” standard.

No doubt the decision to accept the “gift” could, and have been, explained in terms of “the needs in the country as an emerging economy” … that the “challenges with poverty” we face outweigh the cost of enabling ICT literacy at public schools.  Read some of the official reponses here  at Educationweb http://www.educationweb.co.za/ew/?p=166.

Lofty as it sounds, the cynic and activist in me can’t help but be uncomfortable with the idea of such viral (pun intended) marketing being allowed into our public schooling system. As long as government departments (meaning politicians), school administrators and teachers show by example that Microsoft is the “only” and “best” way to get ahead in this world, generations of (young) new users are being programmed to follow suit.