It is early evening at Pangolo Junction, a run-down bar in a less-than-affluent part of an unnamed town, and three men are sitting round a table. Two of them are nursing their glasses of kunu and watching with vary degrees of impatience as the third – good looking and fashionably dressed – bellows into his mobile phone.
“…nononononono, don’t tell him that! All we need to do is to find a credible supplier… of course we can! It’s just a matter of hooking up with our connection in Singapore, not so?”
There is a long pause as the third man listens intently to the phone with an expression that rapidly mutates from disgust to irriation, anger, relief and finally ecstasy.
“You mean it? You really, really mean it? Jean-Baptiste, you are a saviour! I will definitely remember you when I get to heaven.” He glances at the faces of his companions and registers their impatient expressions, then turns back to the phone. “OK, J-B, I’ve gotta go. I’m holding up the party here. I’ll speak to you later. Bye!”
One of the two men, stocky, middle-aged and balding, snorts in disgust. “And not before time too. 45 minutes of my life wasted forever and ever!”
His companion, slighter and younger, is less put out. “Relax, Zack. At least he’s off the phone now.” He turns to the good looking man. “What on earth was that about, Jerry?”
Jerry holds up his hands in apology. “Guys, I am so sorry about that. You know how it is… business finds you at the most inconvenient places. There was a time I was with this hot babe I’d been chasing for weeks… I’d made the right moves, spun the right lines and had finally got her to come down to my flat for some serious action…”
Zack interrupts with another snort of disgust. “Please spare us the sordid details and get on with your story.”
Jerry casts a crooked grin at Zack, and continues. “OK, anyway we were just about to get down to business when my phone rang. It was my main man, Jean-Baptiste Anugileme with a lead about a deal that could make me millions! What’s more, he said that what he wanted to discuss couldn’t be postponed – he needed to talk about it now!”
Slighter-and-Younger is curious. “So which did you choose – love or money?”
Zack interjects. “Actually Solo, I’m sure that all he had to choose between was lust and the very remote prospect of money.”
Jerry shakes his head gravely. “Zachariah, your jealousy has been duly noted. Anyway Solo, this is Jeremiah J. Ugwi that you’re talking to here – the past master of the art of wheeling and dealing while wining and dining. Of course I didn’t have to choose.
“I took the girl in my arms and explained that under any other circumstances I would have shown my disdain for anyone trying to come between us on this most special of evenings by hurling my mobile through the window. But sadly, these were not normal circumstances. I painted in vivid pictures how absolutely crucial this deal was, how rare an opportunity it was and how its success would change my life – our lives – for the better. By the time I had finished, she was begging me to take that call. And of course, when I was done with J-B and turned my attention back to her…”
Solo hurriedly interrupts. “OK, I think we get the picture. Of course I don’t think I would have been able to handle the situation as well as you did, Jerry. It would have been too difficult for me to move from whispering sweet nothings to talking hard business. I’d probably have switched my phone off right away.”
“I guess I’m lucky, then,” says Jerry, shrugging. “I don’t have a problem with dealing with mobile phone calls in any situation. In fact, I sometimes wonder how we ever survived without mobile phones.”
“We survived by getting off our backsides and actually going to meet people – but of course, we’re now too lazy to do that, and we think that a mobile phone call is sufficient instead!”
Jerry shakes his head in violent disagreement. “Zack, you cannot be serious! You’re trying to tell me that instead of staying in the comfort of my home and discussing a deal with someone, I should brave hours of madness on the road going to meet the same person… when I don’t even know if that person will be in? You’re talking rubbish!”
“No, it’s you that’s talking rubbish! You think if you want to clinch an important deal, you’ll do it over the phone? You think that you can sustain an entire relationship on the phone without seeing or interacting physically with the other person in the relationship?
Solo interrupts before the situation gets out of hand. “Guys, guys, I think you’re both right. The mobile phone saves a lot of the bother that Jerry has just spoken about, but it won’t completely replace the kind of contact that Zack has just spoken of – well not right away at least.”
Zack is immediately suspicious. “What do you mean, not right away?”
“Well, you can see the way things are going right now. In the beginning, there were just phones which you could talk and text with. Then came phones that allowed you to send picture messages and surf the net. Now there are phones that let you play videos, so I think it’s only a matter of time before you have phones that allow you to see a three dimensional representation of the person you are speaking to…”
Jerry muses over this. “I’d settle for a phone that would allow me to transport the person who I was speaking to so that they were physically present before me. Do you think that we’ll have that soon?”
“Uh… well, I don’t really know, but…”
Zack joins in. “How about a phone which not only does all you have mentioned plus what Jerry mentioned, but also allows me to transport myself to wherever I want?”
“Er… I’m not sure…”
Jerry is grinning as he asks if Solo knows when they invent a phone which not only does all of the above but is also able to produce endless amounts of money on demand, and finally, the penny drops for Solo.
“Oh, OK, I get it. This is another feeble attempt by both of you to mock my predictions. Well it doesn’t matter whether you believe me or not – it’s going to happen anyway.”
Zack leans forward in his chair. “But seriously, I’d place a moratorium on the developments of further additions to mobile phone features if I were able. I’m really concerned about the effect they’re having on the moral fibre of society.”
Jerry intones sotto voce, “And once again, Pastor Zachariah ascends the pulpit to preach death and damnation.”
“I know why you’re complaining, Jerry. You’d be one of the first people to be affected if my ban went into effect!”
Solo is again curious. “How exactly can a mobile phone affect society negatively?”
“Well for one, it makes it easier for you to lie to your spouse about where exactly you are, and it also allows you to carry on affairs without your spouse knowing about them – that is, if you are able to buy a second handset.”
“Pastor Zachariah, even if you ban technology all the way back to the Stone Age, I assure you that people will still find a way to lie and cheat – so you’re wasting your time,” Jerry counters.
Solo continues: “And what about the vast majority of non-lying and non-cheating people who do use mobile phones productively? Why should they be made to suffer for the sins of the lying, cheating minority?”
“Hold on o! I’m not talking about banning anything that is currently being used – I’m just saying that there are these negative effects that they’re already causing that we need to be aware of before adding new features to these phones.”
Jerry is dismissive. “Come off it, Zack – you’re just being unrealistic! There is absolutely no new technology on this earth that doesn’t have its bad side as well as its good. Cars kill people in accidents, but would you suggest banning all cars? The most important thing is to ensure that the good that comes out of the technology outweighs the bad.”
“Of course you don’t care about whether people are dying or suffering from the ‘bad’ as long as you’re making money out of it!” Zack responds heatedly.
“And you don’t care whether people are dying or suffering from lack of technology as long as your moral paradise is preserved intact!”
“Well you can say what you like – I personally refuse to join the mad craze for the latest technology for technology’s sake!”
Just then, Zack’s phone rings. He takes it out of his pocket to answer it, but it is snatched away by Jerry, who jumps up and sprints for the exit, only pausing to turn back to Zack and say “Just trying to save you from joining the mad craze for the latest technology!” before finally sprinting out of the bar. An enraged Zack roars, jumps out of his chair and dashes after him in hot pursuit.
Solo watches them go, and brings up the mobile phone which he has been surreptitiously dialling. Thank heavens for the wonderful technology of the mobile phone, he muses. The things one has to do to break up these arguments. Oh well, at least they left me the rest of the bottle of kunu. And he smiles to himself as he lifts the bottle to pour himself a fresh glass.