Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Ringing in the Ears

Every now and then, I like to put myself through the pain and discomfort of watching prime-time Indonesian television for reasons that remain obscure to me. In the last couple of years my original pet love to hate, namely the epileptic camera work and endless hospitalizations of the Sinetron soap opera, has been overtaken by a new televisual bĂȘte noire. These are the endless advertisements of the genus Ketik-Reg-Spasi.

Basically, these insidious ads are aimed at people who happen to possess mobile phones, which I'm led to believe are all the rage these days. I suspect that even the half naked homeless man who paces the streets near my office with a half eaten bag of peanuts saying, "I’ve got the dolphins on my side," and picking fights with himself has a mobile phone which he uses to call Saturn on.

Anyway, such adverts basically offer ring tones, wallpaper, celebrity gossip and horoscopes to mobile users. After you've entered your Ketik-Reg-Spasi information and received your annoying jingle or picture of Justin Timberlake, a couple of thousand Rupiah gets chipped off your phone network credits (or 'pulsa' as I believe they are known in the vernacular).

Basically, such flyweight nonsense is of little interest to adults (I'm talking mental age here of course). This being the case, the main users of such services appear to be the country's teeny bopping ABG (or Anak Baru Gede, local slang for teenager). According to a recent report in the newspaper Kompas, one teenager managed to get through a staggering Rp.750,000 worth of this guff in a single month. The fact that there is money to be made in teenage dross is nothing new of course, remember The Osmonds?

Perhaps the fact that one doesn't have to open one's wallets and pay for each download creates a false sense of security in users, I don't know. All I know is that the Ketik-Reg-Spasi companies have moved in and cleaned up big time, not just here but in many other countries too.

In fact, a French friend of mine, who has been living in Jakarta for a number of years scraping by, has finally put his computer knowledge to work and has also muscled in on the teenage downloaders market. How is he doing? Well he's just moved into a pretty impressive pied a terre in Kemang. Those Rp.2000 hits really add up I guess. Good luck to him I say, let the spotty, Nokia brained twerps blow their cash on this kind of thing, it's probably less harmful than their pocket money being frittered away on Marlboro Lights and air pistols.

I'm less keen on the endless TV adverts though and the fact that when I phone people, I'm often cut off after a couple of minutes, no doubt due to my network being overloaded by frantic downloading. There is clearly no way back though; hardware, software and the wetware of our brains are being meshed ever tighter into our hyper connected, brave new goldfish bowl of a world. I don't even seem to be able to go to the bathroom for a pee these days without someone taking a picture of the act and posting it up on Facebook.

Kids and their phones ay? They should all be down the park on their bikes really shouldn't they? Oh yes, there aren't any in Jakarta, of course. Well, if you can't beat them you may as well join them. What should I try downloading today do you think?

Ring Tones. If you blow Rp.10,000 on these per month that adds up to Rp.120,000 per year. You could buy a whole CD for that and what's more not have to call yourself from your house's landline in order to listen to it. Ring tones are a particular bugbear of mine; their insidious chirpiness really sticks in my craw. An office colleague of mine had a Beyonce track on his Blackberry for a whole month recently and was receiving calls every 15 minutes. Luckily, the windows in my office don't open.

Games and Wallpaper. That'll be more 'pulsa' down the toilet then. A two inch by two inch screen hardly offers a mind-blowing gaming experience. As for wallpaper, most phones have cameras on them these days; why not take a snap of a cup of weak, milky tea. Voila, Justin Timberlake.

Celebrity News. Surely there's enough of this stuff clogging up the TV channels without one needing to download it as well. That dreaded portmanteau word,'Infotainment', as I've said before, is a bit of a misnomer as the stuff is neither informative nor entertaining. "Julia Peres has just cut her toenails." Yes. Super.

Horoscopes. Example download:"Kamu tidak cocok kerja di air, kamu cocok jadi pedagang." Translation: "You are not suited to working in water, you are suited to being a salesman." I'm feeling enlightened. “You will need to buy lots of 'pulsa' this month." Perhaps closer to the mark. Any superstitious saddo repeatedly using these standard reply astrology services deserves to not only lose a few thousand Rupiah, but also to have their head inserted into a waste disposal unit. On this matter the Islamic fundamentalists and I are as one. Who would have thought it?

There’ll be more hi-tech fun next week.