Sunday, October 28, 2007
  I'm being seduced ....
... and I'm not sure that I want to be.

Esia had a half page full colour ad in the Jakarta Post recently for their own brand handphone at (only) Rp.199,000 (c.$20). Apparently this phone has 32 polyphonic ringtones, a voice and conversation recorder (eh?), a speaker phone and "predictive text input in both English and bahasa Indonesia".

The little I know about handphones is a little too much in my opinion. After all, they are the most anti-social dumbing down contraption ever invented. The only real use I can think of is to be able to ring someone to say you're stuck in a traffic jam and will be late, but I'm not sure I even need it for that. The last time that happened, I borrowed the taxi driver's.

There was an occasion some dozen years ago when my glasses got broken at a football tournament in Ragunan. I borrowed someone's brick-like contraption to ask 'Er Indoors to bring my spare pair with her, not that I actually needed them. I was fairly useless at most sports with or without glasses, and I can't see too well with them either.

But still I'm tempted by this latest offer. The phone seemingly does without internet access, a camera, an MP3 player, games, fancy colours, wallpapers and TV remote control. In other words, it appears to be a phone, and 'appears' seems to be the operative word.

One look at the Esia website and it's obvious that it is a typical Indonesian mishmash of high density graphics ~ 32 images, with ten requiring a Flash player and/or Java. In other words, the site is perfect for the very few in Indonesia who have a broadband connection and have, and can afford to have, unlimited access. And it's of no earthly use as a conveyance of information.

The newspaper ad gives rise to questions apparently not answered on the site, but which I want to ask when (if?) I ever get to an 'esia service center'. For example, among those 32 ringtones, is there one that sounds like a telephone ringing? And can the phone really predict my text? I mean, if it can really do that, why has it got a keypad for inputting words? And if there is a conversation recorder, what is the voice recorder for? Karoake?

I can see the advantage of having a portable phone but I wish it were possible to have a phone with just those features that I need. One that has a voice mail for those occasions when I want to talk at some other time to someone ringing me, or I don't want to talk to the person ringing me, or I'm in need of a bit of quiet privacy when writing articles such as this one.

So is a speaker phone really necessary? Hearing one side of a conversation bellowed across a crowded street or bus is bad enough, but eavesdropping on both communicants? No thanks. Why should anyone think that I'm interested in broadcast banalities? Ask yourself, have you ever been remotely interested in an overheard phone conversation?

I have, just once.

"To look at him you wouldn't believe he's a Jehovah's Witness, would you?"
(Overheard in a Vietnamese restaurant in London on a blind date. Hi Erika.)

Something that is rarely considered in Jakarta, if ever measured, is noise pollution. From the hells cherubs zooming along sidewalks on their unmuffled 90cc souped up Suzukis, to mega speakers outside department stores, to TVs that are never switched off, Jakarta is one great cacophony. The only exceptions that I am tolerant of are the vendors of meals on wheels, the kaki lima, because they offer a very public service whilst obviating the need to leave the comfort zone of one's home.

But even there you might not be safe. According to a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) report, "The Noise Environmental Burden on Disease", some 3,030 people in the UK died last year from heart attacks brought on by noise in their homes. The WHO compared households with abnormally high exposure to noise with those in quieter homes. It also studied people with problems such as coronary heart disease and tried to work out if high noise levels had been a factor in developing the condition.

Apparently, again according to WHO, the noise threshold for sleep disturbance is 42 decibels (dB) or above. As a comparison, the noise of light traffic is 50dB and the sound of a whisper is 35dB. Intrusive noises add to stress levels which, for those with cardio-vascular problems, is dangerous

I can vouch for that. A disturbed night's sleep certainly adds to general grouchiness and the following day can easily turn into a day of high stress. Stressed people are more likely to eat unhealthily, exercise less and smoke more, and these can increase the risk of developing heart disease in the first place.

That's my mind almost made up then. Buying a handphone may lead to an early grave. But there is another reason why I'm biased against joining the chattering classes.

Esia is a Bakrie enterprise. We haven't heard anything but excuses from their representatives in Porong, East Java, when it comes to compensating all those poor souls whose homes and businesses have been inundated by the volcanic mudflow. What chance have I got for a decent after-sales service in the event of a malfunction in a cheap Esia phone?

Methinks probably esia said than done.


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