Why I’m not cool in Port-au-Prince
Susana Ferreira and Will Connors report for The Wall Street Journal:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti—Chasmaille Odera was so obsessed with writing instant messages on her white BlackBerry, the 20-year-old host of a music-video show here decided to write her own song about it.
“Map Chat,” released earlier this summer under her stage name, Shassy, quickly spread through popular radio programs, local DJs and online. It now blares from car stereos and bars along the capital’s streets—the latest anthem to Port-au-Prince’s love affair with the BlackBerry and its instant-messaging service, BlackBerry Messenger, or BBM.
Apple Inc.’s iPhone may be the first choice of the smartphone smart set in much of the developed world—and Wednesday’s expected launch of the iPhone 5 has been feverishly tracked by techies. But the status symbol and pop-culture icon of choice from Johannesburg to Jakarta remains the BlackBerry, whose cheap and dependable BBM still reigns in many emerging economies.
“In other countries you see a very balanced mix of high-end devices, but Haiti is completely dominated by BlackBerry,” said Awais Malik, chief operating officer of Haiti’s largest cellular service provider, Digicel. “I am one of those people who still think that I’m cool if I’m using one,” he said.
In Haiti, middle-class teenagers offer each other their BBM personal identification number—an eight-digit, alphanumeric sequence that allows BBM users to find each other and start chats—in lieu of phone numbers. Young Haitian men trade the BBM contacts of attractive women. Both sexes post PINs on their Facebook pages to attract potential romantic partners.
Senior executives and government officials here regularly engage in BBM sessions during meetings. When Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe first formed his cabinet last May, he and his team of ministers shared BBM identification numbers before sharing phone numbers, according to some minister members.
There are BBM-only news services, run by a group of Haitian reporters, which send out news flashes to BlackBerry users. (On weekends, they dish out love advice.) Announcements from Haitian authorities—or rumors from just about anyone—about alleged kidnappings, cyclones, traffic accidents and political scandals often appear first on BBM.
I have an iPhone.
Photo by flickr user Honou