Published: Sunday | December 8, 2013 Comments 0

Anthony  Gambrill

Just when we were getting over the shock of being ranked third behind North Korea and South Sudan in the Red Tape, Not Red Carpet World Survey for how difficult it is to invest in a country, we now learn that Grenada will pass legislation making it illegal to use a cell phone while drivers of private vehicles face an EC$3,500 (approx J$36,000) or six months in jail.

Up to now, there has been no mention as to whether you can take your cell phone into prison. Such a ban, if it does occur, might be classified as a violation of a Grenadians' human rights and bring Amnesty International down like a ton of bricks (or nutmeg) on Prime Minister Keith Mitchell's government.

So where does Jamaica stand, anyway? Similar legislation has been mooted since nine years ago, which is about par for the course for new legislation in our system. There is a draft act, according to the National Road Safety Council, but it has already stirred up considerable controversy. Some are definitely against banning cell-phone conversations in cars; some want their use restricted to hands-free technology. We should know by March, or later, which faction won out. But what a way cell phones in cars, or otherwise, have turned our world upside down in so few years.

Actually, the first phone call on a mobile device was made 40 years ago by an engineer at Motorola. The device was nine inches in height and you could speak on it for only 35 minutes. After that, it needed 10 hours to recharge. It took another 10 years of research before the first commercial model was launched, and it cost US$3,995.

Cell phones were first introduced in Jamaica in 1991 by Cable & Wireless (later reincarnated as LIME). My advertising agency was fortunate enough to be appointed by Digicel to handle its account when it entered the market in Jamaica in 2001. Driven by a cadre of highly experienced and hard-working Irish (who quickly hired a team of eager-to-learn and (soon) hard-working Jamaicans), Digicel flooded the island with hard-sell, innovative marketing strategies.


So much so that I recall we found our bills were taking longer and longer to get paid. When that crisis passed, Digicel's executives admitted that the company had predicated its engineering on the volume of cell-phone calls per person that prevailed in Ireland. Jamaicans, it turned out, took to making more and longer calls than the legendarily talkative Irish.

Jamaicans, in all walks of life, quickly adapted their lifestyle by incorporating the convenience of the cell phone. One apocryphal story (among many I would guess) involved an upper St Andrew housewife who sought out her gardener pruning rose bushes to ask him if he would mow the lawn. Yes, he certainly would, but he asked her why she hadn't called him on his cell phone instead of having to leave the house?

As the cell-phone count grew in Jamaica and the rest of the world, it created a new set of social dilemmas, in particular as to the etiquette of cell-phone usage. For instance, people were making celephone calls in public places indifferent as to how much their conversations were irritating those around them.

One man on a commuter train in Britain, exasperated by the intrusion of a long and loud conversation, snatched the offender's phone out of his hand and tossed it out of the window. Another took the opportunity when a similar incident had taken place in a restaurant. He waited until the objectionable diner had slipped out to the washroom to snatch up the phone, got it deep fried in batter in the kitchen, and return it to the table before he returned.

In Jamaica, even church members were finding them essential for keeping up to date with church activities and sharing juicy gossip.

There are probably three million cell phones in the island today, giving us a comparable density to most developed countries. Two companies provide 90 per cent coverage across the island, and we now have mobile access and affordability that came about as the result of the fierce competition between the two, formerly three, competitors.


The most dramatic change that cell phones have brought about in Jamaica has been the evolution of texting as a language. Yes, spoken language, because texting isn't really writing it all. Our children - and our adults who haven't grown up yet - have become bilingual (or trilingual, if you include the queen's English). Is it linguistic evolution, the need for speed, or just plain laziness?

Even texting is barely 20 years

old, dating back to when a British engineer first texted "Merry Christmas" one December. Since then, it has irrevocably changed the way we communicate. Call us what you may ('lapsed literate,' some say) but you must admit, we can text-speak with the best of them.

Wikipedia has counted 1,375 online and chat messages, and every day, 82 million of them are communicated. Apparently, many of them are scatological, vulgarism or sexually explicit, which is why texters have to use signals ('9') if a parent is watching or ('W9') if the wife is in the room. Jamaican acronyms are generally colloquial rather than crude and often contain a topical observation (BO - before Olint, AO - after Olint).

Familiar Jamaican phrases have shrunk: KMN/kiss mi neck. NR/nuff respect. LL/licky licky. TDF/too damn faas. Some are generous: GDY/go deh yute. GDMG/go deh my girl. Others cautionary: MYODB/mind yuh own dyamn biznezz. TWY/tek weh yuhself. MYB/move yuh bbo. Or just simply an observation about politicians: MPD/mad people dem.

But to get back to the issue of cell phone use in a car or, even more dangerous, texting while driving. It is estimated that an average text lasts 25 seconds, or about a fifth of the time it takes to cross a football field. The police in Jamaica reckon that if a car begins drifting to the left, its driver is texting. You may think that you can text and drive, but to the NRSC, that makes you 'intexticated', similar to being intoxicated.

Nevertheless, with a bit of luck, we might catch up with Grenada with our own legislation to cut down on traffic accidents caused by cellular bad habits. When it was revealed one evening to Portia Simpson Miller, international brand ambassador for the PNP, that fatal road accidents were relentlessly approaching 270, she was alleged to have text Errald "TGIF".


Anthony Gambrill is an author and playwright. Email feedback to

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