Communications in the modern age: You can relax, Grandma!

As we roll out of 2016 into 2017, it’s fitting to think about one of the things that’s changed a lot and will keep changing a lot–communications. 

My mother-in-law is ‘worried’ about her grandchildren, because they ‘don’t communicate’. She sees them huddled over devices like iPads, laptops, smart phones, and says ‘they’re not talking’. Grandma wants to see and hear communications they way she knew them as a girl, if I interpret her concern, correctly. I tried to put the matter differently to her.

She had just gotten off the portable phone with a friend, about an event later today. She’d talked, but had not been face-to-face. Surely, that was different from 60-70 years ago?

She and her children had spent some of the day playing Scrabble, eating conch fritters, and making arrangements for today’s open house. Some of the planning was being done in the kitchen, some on WhatsApp, some over the phones (mobile and land lines). 

The conch fritters had been fried by one of the housekeepers who’d just come back from holiday with her children in Jamaica. We knew about the trip to Kingston and Clarendon because some of it had been reported on Facebook and Instagram. Sadly, when they had spent Christmas in Clarendon, there was no wifi so they weren’t able to call many friends back in Nassau because they could not afford to make the calls, using network lines and data.

I mentioned to my mother-in-law that I had spent part of the previous day dealing with some business overseas. I had called a credit card company in the USA on Skype and sorted out something over a 10 minute call. I had done the same with one of the airlines: free calls using their 1-800 numbers. My mobile phone is not connected to the local carrier when I travel–it’s too expensive to make such calls. Finally, I had made hotel arrangements in Jamaica using a combination of Facebook Messenger and email, via which I had received my confirmation rate and dates. The booking was cancelled and changed about five minutes after I got confirmation, but another email explained that the hotel had a big booking coming so needed to switch my rooms. No problem. 

I spent much of the day exchanging Christmas greetings with friends, from the comfort of my mother-in-laws living room: my friend in Vancouver, with whom I went to grammar school, gave me some interesting philophical advice via Facebook Messenger. I gave him it back with a smile, in spades. I ‘heard’ about a year of successful poem writings from an acquaintance in New Zealand, whom I’ve never met in person, but whom I ‘studied’ with during a ‘MOOC’ (massive open online course; a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people) offered by the University of Iowa. The class ranged from India, Israel, USA, New Zealand, and more. She’d posted on Facebook and Twitter her year and news about her 50-plus published poems during the year. 

I also had a short conversation with a young Jamaican entrepreneur, using the phone and video facility of FacebookMessenger. He was playing video games and having lunch at the time, so I kept the chat short. He is a media specialist and talked to me about how to advance my use of video for my commentaries, and I told him about some ideas for graphics I wanted to try in 2017. I’ve ordered items on Amazon and my wife will collect them for me on her next US trip

I had written and posted two blog articles earlier in the day. One, about crime in Jamaica, was generating some reactions and I was exchanging comments about it via Twitter.

My older daughter and I had gone ‘old school’ during the afternoon, on the sofa, yelling at grown men chasing a ball in England on a cold misty night–live from The Bahamas. C’mon, Hull! 

The children descended on the house in the evening, aged from about 9 through 20s. My daughter, who had not called all day, said she had been making ‘goo’ with her cousin. Why did you both have cell phones if you’re going use your hands to make stuff? Go figure! 

I had a problem with my cell phone and their collective brains worked on it, but to no avail. So, I did some checking and rebooting and disconnecting from networks and bravo, ‘Daddy fixed it!’ Yea! I should have shamed them on Facebook 🙂

We ended the evening with another few rounds of Scrabble with my daughters and my wife, and then a crazy game of ‘Go Fish!’. During that, I commented that I thought my teenage daughter communicates too much with her friends, as they have long group chats in the afternoons, after school and sometimes way past her bed time. I have to turn off the light and take away her laptop. I dont know what they find to laugh about and scream so much. I think about eight of them are chatting and video chatting at the same time–from their homes, not in mine. When they come to visit, they create mayhem and mess. This way, I only have my one child’s messy bedroom to deal with. 

My point, without wishing to diss my MIL is that ‘things ain’t what they used to be’. But, I’m not sure that it was all that in the past, either. 

I remember when I was a boy, coming home, and if I was not able to go out and play with friends in the street, being inside on my own, with no one to talk to: we had no phone. In fact, no one in my family had a phone for years. We got television sooner in England than any of my relatives in Jamaica. I watched some childrens’ TV and listened to the radio, and read comics and some books. I did my homework. I spent years working in bureaucracies and now for my own pleasure write an ridiculous amount. Funnily, I just got a message about my Twitter account: my most active audience this week was in Slovenia. I know no Slovenes (including Merlene Ottey, who switched from Jamaica), and have never been there. Interesting!

My dear friend, Jean Lowrie-Chin, wrote earlier today on Twitter how we need to respect Seniors, who nursed the Gen X/Gen Y/Millenials in their embrace of tech, and also endorsed the need to be patient with grandparents. 
Credit to grandma; she’s come a long way. She doesn’t use her laptop much, but is getting better with her cell phone and using Whatsapp–she’s better than the lady we heard about who wanted to pay for her Whatsapp bill and wanted to know why she needed data on her phone when she had Internet at home. I may introduce grandma to video chats, but let’s see. As a bit of fogey, myself, I know that I have to embrace much of the technology around me because I am not into hppfing all over the place to get things done. I like banking from my armchair and see little value in standing in lines in banking halls. I get to see my daughter’s grades and assignments before we talk about them in the car on the way home, and I can send her mother notes from the meetings at school, when she’s off travelling, so that when she talks with Miss Lovely she has another view about how things went down.

I dont think grandma need worry, too much. Now, if she becomes an subject of interest on Snapchat, she may regret ever mentioning communication. Bless her!

When I went to bed, I left grandma and grandpa sitting in front of the TV watching a rather violent film. I’m worried about their eyes. 🙂 The items shipped from Florida made the new house look homely, as did the items delivered by boat from Inagua


Twelve Jamaican days of Christmas: Seven

On the seventh day of Christmas, my Jamaican love sent to me, seven shameplants swaying…

Mimosa pudica

…six geezers playing…five goat kids…four coffee buds…three men cutting ten…two fried dumplings…and a chicken patty with curry gravy.

Crime in Jamaica: On the verge of what?

It’s hard to know what people really feel about many topics because we have no true way of gauging all the opinions at any time. We tend to get outcries from people, both close to, and far from, issues and incidents. We get opinions thrust at us by ‘opinion shapers’–media, politicians, pressure groups, interested parties, etc. We can take from all of that what we wish. 

Right now, we are going through a lot of introspection over the high rate of violent crimes in Jamaica. Many people have no interest in solving or reducing those crimes themselves, by direct action: that’s dangerous and not sure to have success in individual or collective cases. They take that position in part from the fact that society has created bodies to deal with law and order, and they should do that task. Many people will try to do their part by being law-abiding citizens, but that does not mean that they will try to uphold the law if they see it being broken, or suspect that to be the case. Let’s agree that is a reasonable reaction if one is concerned with self-preservation. I’m not going to impose some moral duty on anyone without having a good idea how their life is shaped, with its responsibilities and past, current and future problems.

But, having left the task to the powers of law and order, people reasonably get disappointed, even angry, when it appears that these bodies are not making crime go away, and, even worse, crime seems to be increasing and getting far too close. So, some people start to clamour for change.  

That change demanded can be in several forms, but I think is distilled into (a) change of bodies (living or organizations), and (b) change of actions. So, people will seek personnel changes at the head of organizations, and maybe lower down if they feel that such wholesale change is needed. That’s what the Republic of Georgia did a few years ago by sacking its whole police force (known to be corrupt) and starting over. Or, people will seek or get different organizations, such as different forms of legal processes to speed up the the wheels of justice, eg with say ‘gun courts’. We may also get more radical changes, such as the creation of some mixed police-military force to deal with what seems like more than a simple crime problem and has implications of national security. We may also get different actions. For instance, forms of policing may change; it could become more ‘collaborative’ or ‘community based’ (they tend to be mutual), or it could be more ‘abrasive’ (in the belief that force meeting force will yield tangible results). Proponents of each will tend to be poles apart in thinking which will work better. But, that’s for the people to resolve, if given a chance. 

Anyway, people will ‘see’ that ‘something’ has been done. Then, we get to see what, if anything, changes.

So, in Jamaica, we are going through these processes. Some of the change seems voluntary or spontaneous. 

The Commissioner of Police just announced his resignation, after just over two years in the post. I would say he had some successes but visibly several failures, if one judges the rate of murders as a key statistic. The JCF spun the line that crime was declining and only murder was rising. They seemed to miss the point that telling people they were more likely to be killed wasn’t comforting. Dr. Williams seemed to want to root out corruption, in his words, and judging by the reports one still sees, he had some success, but it’s a work-in-progress. We read too many ‘crooked cop’ stories.

An interim Commissioner has been appointed, from within the ranks, and she was highly considered when the post last came vacant. Like the outgoing Commisoner, she has high academic qualifications in law enforcement. However, we can say safely that such qualifications are no guarantee of success in dealing with crime in Jamaica. But, let Ms. Novelette Grant have a chance to impress. 

So far, no one has publicly called for other changes in the police force, and that’s not a surprise. I think the JCF needs a root and branch approach to its culture and practices, which we have seen in recent times, but know from a long way back are outdated, inefficient, insensitive, self-protective, dangerous to the process of justice, and encouraging of wrong doing rather than the opposite. I have said repeatedly that until the JCF can show itself capable of fulfilling its tasks in a coherent and consistent manner for a period of time, the last thing to do is give it more powers. As with a child, show us that you can manage those little walking steps well first, then we will think about letting you run around. Now, I imagine the JCF feels under siege, but it’s a situation much of its own making.

Some are clamouring for a change of style that shows ‘no holds barred’ in dealing with crime and criminals. (I am in danger of doing what I see being done, which is to talk in platitudes or cliches, but I will try to be specific.) One suggestion from a politician, yesterday, was to dispense with INDECOM (the body that oversees and investigates conduct of the security forces), label killers as ‘terrorists’ and ‘shoot’. Not surprisingly, that suggestion set off a few reactions, including from me. What’s unknown is how many feel the same way.
Now, from what I have seen over the past, this politician has a tendency to provoke, so one needs to be careful about being drawn in too much by the words, but to have some notion of what thinking may be going on behind them, because he’s also a mathematician. In my mind, that means that he is not a fool but capable of intricate calculations about possible and probable outcomes (including reactions), including to what he says and does. So, to paraphrase him, it’s important to not get ‘played’ or caught in a ‘joke’. However, think hard about this line of argument:

But let’s try to wrestle with the superficial statements and whether they really see a place for due process as we now know it. 

My main reservation about these ideas is that many killers have shown clearly by how, where and when they’ve acted that the prospect of being killed seems to hold little or no fear. But, let me deal with crime from another perspective. 

I asked a few weeks ago whether Jamaica was at civil war. Wesbsters defines it as ‘a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country‘. (We may argue about what ‘war’ means, but it’s armed conflict between groups.) You can see from the context that I did not pose the question assuming that ‘civil war’ was striking us nationwide. It was notable that West Kingston was once again at the centre of police-citizen disorder. The events in Tivoli in 2010 had all the hallmarks of a civil war episode, in my mind, with the security forces of the State pitted against a community, and armed resistance taking place. Now, I did not hear of any political cause that was being put forward, but I’m not sure that would negate the idea that civil war existed. 

Anyway, my point is that if we are in a state of civil war, in some or several areas, against common or disparate groups, then that changes the nature of the attempt to keep law and order, and brings it clearly into the realm of national security. In other words, the sometimes uncertain role of the army in dealing with what appears to be crime can and must change. 

I’m not well enough versed in constitutional and legal matters to know what that may imply, but I am willing to listen to those who are. 

The police tell us repeatedly about how many murders are the outcome of gang disputes. We can ask what the gangs are doing and who they are doing it for. If part of their existence is to make inaccessible parts of the country–which seemed to be the case in Tivoli in the past and in recent months, and seemed so in parts of St. James, recently, we have to ask ourselves whether we are dealing with simple criminal activity or something quite different

The terrorist/shoot suggestion is problematic on many levels, not least whether we want to give such power to the police force that has shown itself to be less-than-capable in just carrying out its simple policing duties. 

It also leaves open how we treat killing that somehow does not fit this ‘terrorist’ labelling. I wont go into the various forms of manslaughter or murder, but just worry that very diffent forms of violent crimes like domestic abuse and gang-related killings would seem to defy a one-size-fits-all solution. Unless, one says if you kill you will be killed. Jamaica has a religious basis for taking that view and I will watch the discussions to see what if any justification comes forth.

I do not see Jamaica’s crime problem (and it’s not just murder that we need to deal with) as amenable to any quick solution (short of eradicating large swathes of the population–AND I AM NOT ADVOCATING THAT!) The social basis for the existence of much criminal activity was built over decades and supported by people in power and made legitimate by a principle of tolerance so that much wrong doing was normalized. Committing crimes is part of our culture; it has its tentacles in almost every aspect of our lives. We would be dishonest to deny it, though it is not a comfortable admission. You cannot flip a switch and just turn off those processes. 

I also do not see a lasting solution to crime in Jamaica (in its many and disturbing forms) that can come from the organizations set up to uphold law and order ‘dong something’ without the full engagement on a sustained basis of the majority of citizens. 

I would be very worried if the ‘terrorist/shoot’ idea got much support, but I would not be surprised to see that happen. It has appeal in terms of its seeming to correct a wrong. But, it holds so many dangers for all of us. 

Twelve Jamaican days of Christmas: Six

On the sixth day of Christmas, my Jamaican love sent to me six geezers playing…

When you’re in your 80s you polka hard 🙂
I’m still articulate enough to not be a minority

five goat kids…four coffee buds…three men cutting ten, two fried dumplings, and a chicken patty with curry gravy.

Twelve Jamaican days of Christmas: Five

On the fifth day of Christmas, my Jamaican love sent to me: five goat kids…four coffee buds…three men cutting ten, two fried dumplings, and a chicken patty with curry gravy…

National disservice

I’ve wondered aloud before about how surprising it is that Jamaica hasn’t descended into social turmoil. Over the past few months, as stories have swirled about a wave of killings and abuse, on the island, I wondered again about what it would take for Jamaicans to do more than talk about their national problems, as opposed to doing something about them. Each time I think about this seeming passivity, the only logical conclusion I reach is that it’s hard to fight against yourself. By that, I mean that so many Jamaicans are implicated personally and collectively in the misdeeds we observe that they are blocked by that from acting against them. If we talk about six degrees of separation in relationships with people, my suspicion in Jamaica (as with much of the Caribbean) is that it’s more likely to be one or two degrees, at most. We joke about being each other’s cousins, but when it comes to dealing with bad stuff that’s too close for comfort. That awkward closeness gets worse if the ‘related’ person is ‘big’, i.e. important or in some sense well-connected. Remember that this cuts across lines of legality, so good connections mean power to harm as well as power to help.

So, fixing economic woes is hard because a large part demands that we dispense with people and habits we hold dear, whether inefficient public servants, or the bevy of informal workers and vendors on whom so many of us now depend. 

Fixing social woes is hard because it means dismissing the things we’ve cherished that are harmful, like beating children, who grow up to become beating adults, who beat children, who grow up…. It also means addressing attitudes towards sex, and actions, especially concerning minors, that we say are wrong but to which we often turn a blind eye. Then, we have rapes and assault that police officers brush aside, or parents blame on the victims, or communities protect the offender because he (usually a man) is ‘prominent’ or a ‘good citizen’, some other convenient acceptance. 

We accept illegality when it benefits us. Yet, we wonder why crime is rampant. 

I know that Jamaicans are afraid of acting against people, as we see that ‘fear’ displayed largely in our justice system. You are more likely to find a lenient sentence being given for a crime than a harsh sentence. It’s generally accepted, therefore, that our so-called ‘justice system’ is more about doling out injustice–in terms of sentences that do not seem to fit the crimes. (I’m not going to get into whether harsh sentences matter, but the general perception is that people like to see bad deeds treated as if they’re really bad, and minor things as if they are really minor.) So, it’s a boo-hiss for the justices who want to deal harshly with a mango stealer, but seem to be uncontrollably mushy if the thief does something like steal a lot of money or high-value goods. Written into this seeming disparity is a certain classism, that means that ‘poor’ gets shafted while ‘rich’ get sweet stroking. If I have misread the various cases reported in the papers, please correct me.

We see it also in the persistent hand-wringing of politicians every time some embarrassing piece of information gets out. Has anyone kept track of the many reviews that must be going on to address the spate of ‘scandals’ coming from the political world? What I’ve noted is the absence of many clear reports and action plans to deal with these instances. Worse still, when statutory bodies are charged with assessing the work of government, their reports (often damning) tend to find their way into the filing cabinet that gets emptied by the janitor. I love the Auditor General’s reports but shouldn’t we have a much better civil service by now? 

Although I cannot be everywhere at the same time, I look and read about incidents, and what seems to happen often is that Jamaicans like to be observers. The world is not filled with brave people, willing to die for an unknown cause, or just stand up against the voices of opposition. To oppose others one needs strong convictions. I’m not sure that this is part of the national make-up.

Now, in the same breath, some people call on Jamaicans to act–as with the horrible stabbing death of a Jamaica College student–but, gladly stand by. We are urged to use numbers against the few and overcome them that way. But, we generally see people happier to stand and watch or better still move past the incident, leaving others to act. 

An RJR producer posted a video on Twitter a few days ago of a traffic incident. Red light running led to a knife-wielding altercation. What struck me was how almost everyone nearby did nothing but watch. Watch for yourself 

Scene of an accident turning violent (Courtesy: Giovanni Dennis.)
I’m not making any value judgement, merely noting that doing nothing seems quite normal.

Now, we can ask how we got here. I’m not sure people were ever much different but in the face of a worsening situation that inaction is glaring. 

Some say that having more armed citizens is one way to deal with the waves of violent crimes. I’m afraid of that option. I’m not sure every ordinary citizen can well judge each incident and then act sensibly with a firearm.

Of course, the position we’re in is a bad reflection on those who are supposed to be crime fighters. But what can society do when those with roles abrogate them? 

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