Opinion

WHY DO WE tolerate such things?

Music is extremely important to human beings. It helps to set or change people's moods. And a person's mood largely determines how he or she will behave.

Experts in marketing know this, so when you enter a shop, you may find that they are playing music to you that, they hope, will make you relax – and thereby loosen your purse strings. Conversely, the music may be so irritating to you that you leave the shop earlier than you had intended to!

Similarly, when you enter a chapel, organ music may greet you and help you to concentrate on the serious business of communicating with invisible forces. Or it may depress you and recall to your mind, things better forgotten — such as the loss of a beloved person.

Some airports used to play what was at one stage called “Muzak” – music that was deliberately neutral, so as to take the traveller's mind off the potential hazards of the journey ahead of him or her.

Telephone companies are among the biggest consumers of market research conducted on human behaviour. Some of these  companies, therefore, use subliminal messages to sell products to their customers.

For instance, they can demand that one calls their messaging service – without telling one what message one is supposed to receive when one does do so. If one is abroad and one calls a messaging service, in the hope that it's an important message, especially one regarding matters you might not have been able to deal with before your departure, one may be charged for the call. But then,  what often happens is that  one discovers that the “message” is only an invitation from the phone company itself to do this or that, at an “advantage” to oneself that one has not sought to obtain!

It means one pays in order to be sold something! Is that fair?

In some countries, such practices are not allowed. The telecommunications regulators are so alive to the sharp practices indulged in by some companies that they constantly monitor the operations of the companies, in order to detect and put a stop to such practices.

In the European Union, for instance, phone companies have been ordered, among other regulatory fiats,  to reduce their so-called “roaming charges” because not only are these charges too high but also, their existence cannot be justified on commercial grounds, given the degree of integration of telecommunications facilities that exists in the Union.

Globalization of operations means that, in fact, this degree of integration also exists in other parts of the world, as well, but, of course, if the regulators of operations in those regions do not care to protect the pubic adequately, then the advantages enjoyed by other regions will not devolve to the regions with a crappy form of regulation. Trans-national companies that carry out operations across borders know exactly how to maximise their profits – and they always bless weak regulators. Or bribe them —   if possible.

It is small signs that tell us whether our regulators are working well or not. The “small sign” I have noticed about the Ghana telecom scene that indicates that the regulatory system is not robust enough is this: I have just telephoned a number, and instead of hearing a normal ringing tone, I got an excited, high-pitched voice which asked me to choose whether to accept a “tune” by pressing a button! Now, the tune  that was  played into my ears was atrocious — to me.

 It was such a shock t my system  that I instinctively pulled the instrument away from my ear. Is this still going on in Ghana? Why?

I hated the tune! Yet it had been played to me without my permission!

And I hated, even more, the idea that the phone company was allowed to do this to customers, who were obliged to listen to the company's terrible “song-message” by force! In other words, we have become sitting ducks. Yet we have set up a body that is supposed to provide us with "consumer protection".

Apart from the invasion of our privacy that this system denotes, the regulators ought to know that interfering with the communications of telephone users in this manner is bad for  a country's business – generally. I am calling someone; the telephone company does not know the sort of business I want to conduct with the person I am calling; indeed, that is none of its business. Yet it is playing me “music” that may affect the mood with which I shall approach the person at the other end of the phone!

If what I consider to be atrocious music had been chosen by the person I am trying to communicate with, my opinion of that person would have been adversely affected by his or her “taste” in music!

What? He/she likes this noise that is supposed to be “music”?

And, of course, I would try not to call that person again – in order not to hear again, that noise that passes for music. Which means that the person is paying a phone company to destroy his/her chances of doing any business with me.

Yet that person's taxes are used to pay the regulators who allow companies that are destroying his/her business, to continue to  exist.

Now, of course, other members of the public may like the “music” offered by the phone company when one calls its customers. That is their choice. Their choice, however, is not my choice, and it may not be the choice of other customers. The phone company, therefore, has no right to inflict the “music” on us and affect our mood in a manner that it cannot pre-determine. And it is for the regulator to rule that the phone company cannot invade the moods of its customers in this way.

The reason why this is going on is that some phone companies are notoriously arrogant and do not care a fig about the interests of the customers who pay to keep them in business. What recently happened in Nigeria is instructive: there, a company was so negligent oversteps the Government required it to take in order not to jeopardise the security of the state that the company was fined an enormous amount of money. The Nigerian case happened because the  Nigerian regulator was up to its task.

Are our regulators up to their task? I don't see how it can be if customers like me are reduced to making a call only when we are forced to do so – for fear of being played some sakabo music.

Phones are meant to enhance our enjoyment of life. But in Ghana, some of the companies are allowed to annoy us, in the course of our carrying out ordinary communications.

By the way, this is not the first article I have written about this noisome practice! That I have been forced to do so again shows exactly how impervious to consumer reaction some of the phone companies are.

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GLOBAL WARMING is affecting Ghana in ways that are quite surprising. The other day, I bought some ripe plantain and groundnuts from a woman at the roadside. I could have sworn that

the amount of plantains was about one-third of the quantity  I  obtained for the same amount of money just over a year ago. If one uses that as a very rough and primitive index of price inflation, it comes to no less than 33 percent. Even if one “seasonally adjusts” the price, it is still quite hefty. No wonder a newspaper reported recently that "Kofi Brokeman too has become unaffordable"!

But what shocked me most was the size of the groundnuts: they were tiny! And I mean tiny – so tiny that a 3-year-old boy could put four in his small hand as he sought to  de-shell them!

I wondered: who was the farmer who took such tiny groundnuts out of the soil? And further: who was the plantain seller who bought such tiny groundnuts and took the trouble to roast and sell them to the pubic?

Then the thought occurred to me: maybe they had no choice. The groundnuts are what the farmer got from his soil. They signalled to him that they were ready to be harvested. But when he took them out, they were tiny in size. The plantain-seller too bought the nuts, probably unaware that they were such tiny nuts. When she began to roast them, she realised what a joke they were. But by that time, it was too late to do anything about the matter. For how could she retrace her steps to find the farmer who had sold them to her – even if she had wanted to?

A thought occurs to me: is it just drought that is causing such things to happen? Or are some genetically-modified groundnuts probably finding their way to our markets?

I don't know! But I would like the Ministry of Agriculture and the

Crop Research Institute of the Ghana Academy of Sciences to conduct investigations and explain the phenomenon to the pubic. Other researchers who know our markets well can also put in their oar. I know, for instance, that the Research Department of the Bank of Ghana used to be able to tell us with accuracy, what was happening to the cost of local foodstuffs in our markets. I would very much like  them to educate us on this.

 

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