The signs of these changing times

The signs of these changing times

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, January 06, 2019

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For a lizard to bask in the sun it must have a cave in view. — Shona proverb, Zimbabwe


Cellular phone technology is evolving at a rapid pace. “The first commercially available hand-held cellular phone was the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x, which hit the market in 1983 and weighed in at 2 pounds. It was priced at US$3,995 and offered a half-hour of talk per battery charge. It also had a catchy nickname — the brick.” (

A popular technology website noted that: “The DynaTAC took a decade to reach the public, mostly because cell towers and other infrastructure had to be put in place first, although it did shed a half-pound in the process. The first hand-held cellular call was made by Martin Cooper, of Motorola, in 1973, using an earlier handset that weighed 2.5 pounds.” ( Today, the mobile phone with its mechanism of planned obsolescence is near indispensable to contemporary life.

Another site says: “A single smartphone potentially replaces 18 different devices. What once took 449 watts of power now takes 5 watts, according to the latest figures from Dr Arnulf Grübler et al, whose research cites us on dematerialisation.”

Many technology experts say that today we have more smartphone subscriptions than human beings in the world, with the highest concentration and usage in the developed world. Many countries in the developing world are catching up fast. The Economist of March 2, 2015 had an insightful piece entitled 'Why does Kenya lead the world in mobile money?' It said, among other things: “Paying for a taxi ride using your mobile phone is easier in Nairobi than it is in New York, thanks to Kenya's world-leading, mobile-money system, M-PESA. Launched in 2007 by Safaricom, the country's largest mobile network operator, it is now used by over 17 million Kenyans, equivalent to more than two-thirds of the adult population; around 25 per cent of the country's gross national product flows through it. M-PESA lets people transfer cash using their phones, and is by far the most successful scheme of its type on Earth.”

In Rwanda and Tanzania, more so Rwanda, mobile technology and drones are being used to deliver health services to rural districts and towns. And there are numerous other countries in Africa and elsewhere around the world which are using mobile phones to improve their standard of life.

Here in Jamaica we have made and are making important strides in the use of mobile phones to promote greater economic efficiencies. Many of us, if we care to, certainly can remember the times when we had to go to the home of a middle-class person who had a Cable & Wireless landline to make an urgent call, especially to loved ones abroad.

As a teenager, I would sometimes walk from Highgate to Siding [not a great distance] to use one of the public phones. Invariably, I had to wait until someone had finished their business, or pleasure, in one of the five telephone cubicles. Sometimes only two of the five functioned properly. I remember it was more than slightly uncomfortable to talk near the roadside. The hubbub of human and vehicular traffic was quite bothersome. Plus, there were always those who took great pleasure and made deliberate efforts to listen in on the sweet nothings of others, while they pretended to be annoyed at the length of time you had charge of the instrument. I remember well!

We have indeed progressed on the mobile phone front. I recall the times when the cellphone, like the satellite dish, was a status symbol in Jamaica. Whispers of involvement in illegal 'drug runnings' often swirled around many of those who carried the then analogue Leviathan. Soon enough, some might disagree, the mighty hand of liberalisation and competition landed on our shores and the cruel hands of a boastful monopoly were crushed.

The total number of mobile subscribers grew by 3.9 per cent in 2015 to 3.3 million persons. Today, almost every Jamaican has at least one mobile phone with Internet capability/connectivity. Many even have two, and I know some even have as many as three.

Last week, I wrote, among other things: “The era when a privileged elite, by virtue of their control of communication and other conduits of power, had a near monopoly to influence, if not determine what folks thought and how often they thought it is over. I believe that we are today a much more discerning population.”

There is overwhelming research evidence to suggest that there is a rich relationship between the widespread use and availability of mobile phones and the dent in the hegemonic hold which a privileged elite once had to influence what most Jamaicans thought and how often. Anyway, that is a discussion for another piece.


Bad signs of the times

Like with most things in this mortal life, there are negatives and positives. Last week, I saw two videos which made my blood 'curdle'. In one instance a young man, only 20, had been stabbed during an altercation in Ocho Rios, St Ann. He ran outside of the eatery in which the incident took place. Some people ran alongside and behind him, videotaping his ordeal. At one point, the injured youngster fell in front of what looked like a taxi. He was bleeding profusely. Folks just stood around helplessly; except for one man who held up the injured man for a short time and cried for help. His cries fell on deaf ears. He then left the scene — maybe to seek help.

In the background epithets which cannot be reproduced in this newspaper [not that I would want to] punctuated the conversation of the bystanders. “Him dead, man,” one male concluded. “It look like him dead,” another blurted out. “Dat dead man,” said another. Apparently with the last ounce of life, the young man, still with blood gushing from his body, raised up and cried out, “Carry mi guh hospital.” Then he fell back on the ground.

What the hell is happening to some of us?

I suspect those with vehicles did not want the blood to 'nasty up' their prized possessions.

The rot of unenlightened self-interest is a threat to Jamaica's prosperity.

There are those who laugh vociferously when an old lady slips on a ripe banana peel. There are those who use their smartphones to capture the lowest points of human misfortune with a single perverse objective: “I must post it on social media first.”

How come nobody, except for one person, tried to help, you may ask? Psychologists suggest that whether or not you intervene might depend upon the number of other witnesses present. It is what they call the bystander effect: “The term bystander effect refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses. Being part of a large crowd makes it so no single person has to take responsibility for an action (or inaction).” (

The second bone-chilling video had a woman providing 'narration' at an accident scene. A vehicle apparently 'catapulted' off one of our highways and landed on a hillside. The vehicle was mangled. A human body mingled with dirt and other debris on the hillside. The 'narrator' at a death scene evidently had little remorse for the horrific outcomes that she recorded. She used the morbid occasion to hail friends and 'big up' some who I suspect might have been neighbours. It seems the “Milk of Human Kindness” [Shakespeare's Macbeth] has all but disappeared from the breasts of too many of us.

I remember a time in this country when helping others was nearly a reflex action. If you had a flat tyre someone was sure to help. Our abnormal crime rate has put a dent there.

A motor vehicle crash often brought out the best in people as regards the saving of life and limb. Sure, we have had folks stealing produce from drink and chicken trucks after traffic accidents from time immemorial. In fact, I have seen The Gleaner articles from as far back as the 1960s in which folks generously helped themselves to meat and other goodies when a delivery truck for a then prominent company crashed in Porus in Manchester. I have even seen reports of how some folks helped themselves to the valuables of the dead and dying at the Kendal train crash on September 1, 1957.

But the tendency to gloat and self-salute at tragic scenes was never evidently a dominant theme in our culture in so far as my research has to date revealed. I anticipate that some of my readers will e-mail me and say the only difference between today and 40, 50 or even 60 years ago is that the technology exists to show more people the worse of us and the world faster. I am listening.


Good signs of the times

One of the best pieces of news to begin 2019 was this Jamaica Observer headline: 'Holness, Phillips meet — Gov't, Opposition teams now set to discuss security issues next Monday'. (January 3, 2019)

This augurs well for Jamaica. Containing crime, particularly the abnormal number of murders, is the greatest priority which faces this country. Crime is costing us some $70 billion annually.

The reputable The Economist magazine-format newspaper, on March 20, 2008, noted that Jamaica could achieve an additional 5.4 per cent growth in our gross domestic product (GDP) were it not for our long-standing high crime rate. Our most precious resource, our citizens, are being slaughtered by the hundreds each year.

Those who try to make out that just over 1,000 murders in a given year is a spectacular achievement, need to understand that the global crime rate of six per 100,000 is considered normal. Ours has been at different times as high as 10 times what is globally accepted as normal.

Notwithstanding the successes of the states of public emergency (SOE) and the zones of special operations (ZOSO), primarily that 365 citizens are alive because of the measures, if we lose the present security gains to the criminals we all might not live to regret it.

It was, as we say in the streets, a 'big man ting' when both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and the Leader of the Opposition Dr Peter Phillips had face-to-face talks last week. This should not be an exception, but the norm. I hope this is a signal that Dr Phillips and the People's National Party (PNP) have departed from regularly scheduled programming. No one with a modicum of sense expects the Opposition to agree with the Administration on all things, but blind spot Opposition is a zero-sum game.


Remembering Green Bay Massacre

Yesterday was the 41st anniversary of the dreaded Green Bay Massacre. Recall members of the Jamaica Defence Force's Military Intelligence Unit went into Southside, which was an area of Kingston Central, then the constituency of former Prime Minister Michael Manley. Southside was, however, an enclave of the Jamaica Labour Party. The army personnel spent upwards of two months gaining the confidence of young, unemployed men. The dispossessed men were promised jobs paying $300 per week. Army personnel lured some of those whose confidence they had won into ambulances and took them out to the army shooting range at Green Bay in St Catherine, where a platoon of soldiers waited. Five of our citizens were slaughtered after bullets from a general-purpose machine gun rained bullets on them. Two escaped. According to the army, they came upon the men offloading a shipment of guns at around midday.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, after just over two and half years in office, apologised for the hurt caused by the 1963 Coral Gardens massacre and the Tivoli Gardens joint security forces operation in May 2010. It was simply the right thing to do. The PNP, on the other hand, was in power for 22 of the last 29 years. It has never seen it fit to apologise for the numerous wicked acts which happened under its watch, which have caused serious, lasting emotional and financial injury to a large number of Jamaicans.

Another break from regularly scheduled programming would be great at the start of 2019, Dr Phillips.


More Growth

Those who try to delegitimise our country's achievements for unenlightened political reasons need to understand that reverse narratives cannot obliterate truth:

“December 28, 2018: Total value-added at constant prices for the Jamaican economy grew by 1.8 per cent in the third quarter of 2018 when compared to the similar quarter of 2017. This resulted from improved performances in both the goods-producing industries (5.1 per cent) and the services industries (0.7 per cent).” Source: Statistical Institute of Jamaica.

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!


When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. — Helen Keller


Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or

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