Why I Left Twitter

Image Credit - wewillraakyou dot com

I get asked about this a lot.

I joined Twitter not too many years after it launched. Back then, there were so few of us on there that when I ran a search for ‘Ghana’, I would only come across NGO country reports, international news clippings with Ghanaian elements (like the ‘Mabey & Johnson’ story, which I subsequently chased up and broke on Joy FM), or kokonsa from the likes of my sister and her other early-adopter friends. It’s far more populated now and infinitely more interesting as a result.

I suspect I was the first DJ in Ghana to start live tweeting my playlists, something I started doing (first at Vibe, then at Joy and later at YFM) because ads and Live Presenter Mentions (LPMs) kept getting in the way of giving credit to all the artists whose songs I played. I talked about the platform so much that my bosses at Joy actually nicknamed me ‘Twitter’ and tasked me with drafting the station’s social media policy. I smile every time I hear a radio presenter read out a tweet these days. Back then, only a few presenters saw the point and it was a real struggle persuading most of my colleagues that Twitter wasn’t some dadabee fad.

Sometime last year however – a few weeks after attracting my 7000th follower – I deleted my Twitter account.

No announcement.
No goodbye.
Nada.

I was out. Why?

The short version: blame Elidot & EDVWN (and maybe Mitsifantsi too: my most unapologetically analog homie in the history of ever). I kid: they were as shocked as anyone else. That said, the long version does begin with the rambling conversations we’d have on the bumpy drive up to Ashesi every week; GH Twitter’s all-seeing Eye of Sauron at the wheel, me riding shotgun and Yung Fly-Lo in the back.

Twitter came up a lot.

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Ghanaians love humour. Kevin Hart’s is regularly the highest-ranked non-religious podcast listened to by Ghanaians on itunes. Make the mistake of watching a moving, Oscar-worthy, tear-inducing movie scene in mass Ghanaian company, and you shouldn’t be surprised when the solemness of the moment is ruined by someone making a joke – however lame – to diffuse the tension. We make jokes out of anything and everything: it keeps us sane through the daily insanity that comes with being Ghanaian.

The land of a million memes, Twitter is a funny place. The character limit lends itself perfectly to punchlines, and there are users on there who have built entire personas from wit. Which is all well and good, really (unless you’re Boris Johnson: a cautionary tale for every writer with more wit than foresight). But somewhere during my time on there, I also saw Twitter turn… dark. It’s hard to describe it in any precise way. My best attempt would be to say that something that started out as a hive started feeling like a pack. Sure: bees can sting (and I’ve done my fair amount of stinging too). Packs though? They can rip you apart.

There are so many thin lines on Twitter; between ridicule (healthy) and bullying (not so healthy), for example. I’ve seen arguments that start out constructively nose dive into something that looks suspiciously like trolling, which is something that happens on any platform. On Twitter though? No holds barred. I can quickly and easily shut down trolls who show up in my blog comments, for example. That is much harder to do in Twitter: just ask Leslie Jones.

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It’s not just the trolling though. At least that’s overt. There is something else on there that can change even activism into something less noble at times. Maybe it was people I was following who I should simply have unfollowed, but the crux of it reminds me of a close friend who avoids horror flicks, gory scenes and general violence; not just because they scare her, but because she thinks they slowly, insidiously run the risk of desensitizing her to violence and bloodshed.

Insidious (ɪnˈsɪdɪəs) (adjective )

Definition: proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with very harmful effects.

Example: “Sexual harassment is a serious and insidious problem” , “the insidious erosion of rights and liberties”

I started getting that feeling on Twitter. That and a depression of sorts. Something sinking. It came up time and again during those rides and conversations up to Ashesi, and with it, a slow-growing need to shield myself from it all.

The Weight of Expectation: at some point I cannot remember, the number of people who wanted me to follow them back, or who tried to guilt-trip me because I’d promote one thing/person and not the other, or who tried (directly or indirectly) baiting me into subscribing to outlooks on the world that don’t ultimately work became more irritating than they should have. Maybe it was cumulative. Maybe I was paranoid. Either way, suspending the account put an immediate end to all that mess. It actually felt good letting it all go.

Writing: I’d long suspected that my reduced blogging was partly because tweeting allowed me enough of an outlet to vent my thoughts and feelings on things I would otherwise have written about in long-form.

With all of these in mind, I decided one day – on a complete whim – to suspend my account and see how I felt about it.

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God, those first few days were surprisingly rough. I kept feeling the impulse to check on the Tweitgeist. I’d come across an article and feel like other people should know about it. Instinctively, I’d hit my share button and scroll through all the options Android gives you, looking for the Twitter logo… but alas, I’d deleted the app. I’d stare blankly at the phone, sigh, and keep it moving. This happened more times than I now recall. Twitter knows this and counts on it. You cannot just up and delete your account immediately: they suspend it and only finalize deletion if you don’t log in for

Four
Entire
Weeks.

I found it interesting just how entrenched my desire to share had become. I was born at a time when the internet as we know it didn’t exist. I started thinking about those born after sharing became the default, and suddenly started to understand why selfies, internet sex tapes, and Class Talkative had come into existence.

All the while, I had Elidot’s voice at the back of my mind, explaining (like the ZenGuruJediSageBuddhaMaster that he is) that virtual real estate was like actual real estate: it has value. And there I was, ready to swing a wrecking ball.

After two weeks or so, all those feelings and thoughts passed. The overwhelming need to share subsided. I figured out other ways to keep tabs on things (not Facebook: that’s another mess for another day). Elidot and EDWVN always filled me in on the rest. Some of it I missed, much of it I didn’t. I was surprised by the extent to which I didn’t mind being behind on information. I experienced a brief writing spurt but soon went back to my writing indiscipline, although I have since gestated about 150 ideas that all feel ready to emerge now. Two weeks later and the account was gone.

I miss it sometimes. Yesterday, a friend (who also recently left Twitter) mentioned a name I had not heard in awhile and I realized that our friendship had mostly gone down in the DMs. There are a number of such people. Beautiful, awesome spirits. I look forward to reconnecting with them in other ways. I’m not about to launch some ‘Leave Twitter’ campaign: no. Everything said, I still actually like Twitter. Overall though, I feel happy with my decision…

Or maybe I just needed a break. Maybe I’ll sneak back in under a pseudonym and make the occasional sagely observation, looking like I’m following no-one while actually tracking everyone through secret lists.

Or not.

Never say never say never.

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The Bastard (Not a Poem)

I am not the good man I try to be
I am like any other
Struggling
With all the flaws that being a man (and human) entails

I will make mistakes
I have made mistakes
Some of which I’m not proud
Some of which I’m yet to learn were mistakes

As I try to reach a standard
Please don’t mistake me for that standard
It is a mistake I sometimes make myself
And it is a dangerous one

For it leads to hurt
When distance is discovered
Between who I am
And who I am trying to be

Distance that I try (and often fail) to shorten
Hurt I wish I could undo

Life: For Father (Take Two)

PhotoGrid_1403059464038Whenever I tell the story of my return to Ghana almost ten years back, there’s someone who looms large over that tale’s horizon.

During my birth and early upbringing in London, my father was a young management accountant, trying to make things work. He started out with hope and qualifications, but the city would eventually take one of those from him.

Years later, the same thing was happening to me.

It was my father who first advised me that I would remain in a rut until I came home to Ghana. His words carried a lot of weight.

Frustrated with temp work and lack of opportunities, he left London in the late eighties to do a short job for the Bank of Ghana.

After university, I was in a similar predicament. 9/11 happened. The job market shrunk so much I could barely get temp work.

For my father, returning to his motherland would lead to a full time job and promotion after promotion until he was the man signing off on all major foreign transactions in the country. And that’s before he left the Bank to become an IMF representative to countries including Malawi and Ethiopia.

I too started out here with a small opportunity (research intern at ISSER). My father gave me my first management role though. And a car. And a home. Thereafter, I have had an average of one job opportunity thrown my way every year.

History repeats.

Like many people, my father and I have a complicated relationship. We both have faults, misunderstandings and flaws.

Ultimately, we have Love.

I’m grateful to my father for helping me come home.

Deeply.

Being Bourgeois (& Other Ghanaian Delusions)

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I keep finding myself in conversations with people who whip out the word ‘bourgeois’. Some are loud and proud about it. Others mention the word in hushed tones, serving it up like they would a sly wink. Regardless of the approach, I wince.

The ‘poor African’ stereotype is a particularly strong one. Those who do not fit within it become deeply sensitive to it. You do everything you can to defy, avoid, subvert or destroy it. It’s not that non-poor Africans are arrogant or in denial. It’s that there is more than one African. You can’t herd everyone under one label, and where existing labels do not fit, people will find or create new ones.

At times, however, the new labels we find and create push so far in the opposite direction that they lose touch with reality. The label ‘bourgeois’ is – to me – one such step too far. It is deeply, deeply problematic. Even worse, its growing acceptability in certain circles strikes right at the heart of something that is dangerously wrong about modern Ghana.

Let Them Eat Nkate Cake

I had the pleasure of teaching Social Theory (alongside my colleague and friend, Kajsa) last semester. Many of the ideas that shape society today emerged in reaction to the French Revolution: when the poor people of 18th century France decided enough was enough, took to the streets, and toppled the French monarchy. The revolution was – like others before and after it – in response to the reckless flaunting of wealth in the face of abject poverty; a Western Spring if you will. This and other revolutions within the same period forced people – rich and poor alike – to start thinking deeply about things like wealth, privilege, social responsibility, rights and how they are all connected. Philosophers and politicians alike argued. New ideologies – like liberalism and conservatism – were shaped out of these arguments and discussions. The West as we today know it was born.

Since the Revolution, the bourgeoisie rarely actually refer to themselves as bourgeois. They don’t have to. People who are really that elite rarely feel the need to flaunt wealth to anyone outside their class. The trappings of real wealth are obvious to people who are really wealthy. They don’t have to write songs about it. They are so wealthy that their wealth doesn’t need celebration: they take it for granted. Should they need to differentiate themselves from the unwashed masses, they do so by pointing out the latter’s poverty (pleb) rather than by directing attention to their own wealth, lest (“mon dieu!“) they are mistaken for ‘nouveau riche’.

In Ghana, I see the exact opposite. Partly in order to escape the trap of being labelled a poor African, some draw extra attention to their wealth and its trappings, using it not only as an identifier, but also as a way of differentiating themselves from the mass of poorer Africans. Wealth sets them apart. ‘Bourgeois’ becomes a clean, acceptable word. It sets them free.

… except, it doesn’t. They are essentially new slaves to consumer culture and the things they flaunt are merely products of capitalism’s amazing ability to make you buy things you think you need but don’t. That aside, the problem isn’t having wealth.

It is the lack of social conscience that comes with it.

You see it in the little things. Like MPs who seem more motivated by salary than by real social commitment. My girlfriend recently interviewed the men who – in exchange for the occasional tip – regulate traffic under the tunnel connecting East Legon to Spintex Road. Interestingly, they said they recognize many of the people who drive past them and they rattled off a list of wealthy pastors, sportsmen, and politicians, noting (with the interesting exception of former President Rawlings) how rarely they give tips. 

A Few Words for Returnees from an Older Returnee

I also hear some returnees (please note that I said some) make the mistake of including themselves within Ghana’s elite. Some even act accordingly. I won’t lie: as a returnee whose return home predates that of many of the more recent wave of returnees, I find this deeply annoying.

If you know yourself to be one of these people, please research the word, ‘elite’. It involves more than just money. You lack the networks and the contacts to qualify. There are people here who are poorer than you who have better networks than you do. Please note that this may include the waiter and the house girl you snapped at the other day. It is those very same networks that your inability to tap into will result in your failure here. There is a lot about Ghana that must change for all our sakes, but don’t mistake the many parts of the system that don’t work for the whole. There is something intangible here that you will learn to respect and be humble before. If you don’t, you will fail and you will return wherever it is that you came from with your tail between your legs, whining about Ghana being impossible to tame when in fact Ghana just tamed you. Good riddance.

At best, think of yourself as economically privileged. Given the lack of opportunity you are fleeing however, you’re basically an economic migrant with delusions of grandeur. You were not flossing in the UK. There is something there – financial or otherwise – that you lacked. Otherwise you would not be here. Never forget that. Let it humble you. Act accordingly.

I find it galling when people flee a class system that locked them out of being successful, only to come and try to replicate it here. It reminds me of something I heard when visiting South Africa: apparently lower class Brits would go there and lord it over people of darker skin than them worse than white South Africans would. It’s very depressing to see Ghanaians doing the same thing to their fellow Ghanaians based on perceived class.

There is a logic to everything in Ghana. Even that which seems illogical. The same goes for any demographic anywhere in the world, really. Smart companies do market research before embarking on marketing campaigns. They design products with the end user in mind.

Start by dismissing the idea that the ordinary Ghanaian (whatever that means) is simply ignorant. It is lazy thinking (and I use the last of those two words incredibly loosely). Put yourself in the shoes of the person whose actions you don’t understand and rather than asking yourself what would compel them to do such a thing, ask yourself what would compel you to do that thing. What would motivate you to stand in the scorching sun selling Chinese products for so little that you may not have enough money to go home if you do not sell enough? What situation would force you to drive in as kamikaze a fashion as some of our nation’s taxi and trotro drivers? Simple indiscipline and stupidity? Or is there more to it?

Putting yourself in someone’s shoes is harder than it sounds but it leads you closer to the truth. You will often find more questions than answers. Good: keep going.

There are ways of doing things here and reasons those systems have arisen. If you come charging in with what you think is a solution without factoring those ways and reasons in, you will fail and you will sit there in your failure.

We Are All Complicit

Before anyone starts pointing a finger at returnees, please note all the other fingers pointing back at you. We all seem to have this obsession with exclusivity here in Ghana.

Some hide behind their high walls like ostriches burying their heads in the sand; they and their children so far removed from other people’s realities that they assume poor, uneducated Ghanaians are inherently ignorant.

The rest of us create other spaces in which to physically and ideologically distinguish ourselves from our fellow citizens. We stop going to that spot, that club, that bar because ‘too many people are going there’. It has become ‘common’. It is no longer exclusive. Yet we move in herds every Friday night, showing no loyalty towards any one venue. If we are all going to the same venues, how exactly do we expect too many people not to go there? VIP culture is quite childish when you really think about it.

Obiaa nye obiaa.

We Are Young. All of Us.

A nation is no joke. It’s a big thing. It doesn’t just come together by accident.

Ghana is a young country. We have been doing this nation-state thing for only half a century. Americans, for example, have had over two centuries to work on the idea of America and what it means to be American… and it shows. We are all still creating what it means to be Ghanaian. We have a choice to let it fall apart by accident or actively make it gel.

So here’s the thing:

We need to start thinking and writing about what Ghana is, what it means to be Ghanaian and the things that unite us in all our diversity. Our sense of social conscience is currently limited to our social circles. It needs to grow into something that can apply to an entire nation. We need to start having arguments (and disagreements) about these things, forming rival theories, ideologies and philosophies around them that influence politicians, lawmakers, artists (yes: artists) and other practitioners. We then need to teach all of this to our children and get them engaged in the debate from a young age so that by the time they grow up, it has already been imbibed. Nkrumah wrote books about ideas. Those writing about ideas relevant to our time (hello academics) need to find and embrace all the new ways there are to get their message out there.

This exclusivity bull**** isn’t cute anymore. Neither is it sustainable. 

Still want a label? Try this one on for size:

Ghanaian.

Life: Policing Ghana’s Police (or Encounters with the Mafia)

I’m sure everyone in Ghana has a horror story about an encounter with the Ghana Police Service. This isn’t my worst. Neither is it my latest.

It just needs to be said.

On a trip from Accra to Cape Coast in March with my girlfriend and her parents, the latter (who were visiting Ghana for the first time) asked me whether we have organized crime here. You know: anything along the lines of the Italian/American Mafia or Japan’s Yakuza. I initially laughed and said no. We definitely have armed crime, I explained, but – while some might say it is getting more organized – Ghana is yet to see anything that compares with the sheer scale and organization of the Mafia.

During our journey however, we encountered three sets of police patrols. As luck would have it, we drove past the first unit without any trouble. After that, however, the rest of our luck seemed to evaporate in the considerable afternoon heat as we were subsequently stopped by not one, but two patrols. 

The first time we were stopped, an officer waved a speed gun in our driver’s face. From what we could see, it simply read ’65’ (we were in a 50 zone). If there was a date and time at the bottom, we did not see it before the policewoman retracted the gun from our faces. Thereafter, we were parked for about half an hour while our driver – whose papers, triangle, extinguisher, seat belt, etc, etc were all in order – left the car (smiling) to argue with them that he had not exceeded the speed limit. The speed gun, however, said otherwise.  

Negotiations ensued. Our driver returned. His smile did not. I suspect that a few of the notes in his wallet also failed to make the return trip. Our journey continued. 

As though our trip was a Ghanaian movie with a sudden ‘Thanks Be to God. Look out for Part Two‘ break right in the middle of the story, we were stopped a few minutes later by a second patrol. This time, we didn’t even get to see the speed gun. This was fine as far as I was concerned: I knew we had not been over-speeding.

After a few minutes of watching our poor driver negotiate (and by negotiate, I really mean beg) the police officer, I turned to my guests and said:

“Earlier in our journey you asked me whether Ghana has organized crime and I told you we didn’t. I apologize for having lied to you. We do. We call them the Ghana Police Service.”

After that, I got out of the car, approached the policeman, and explained to him as diplomatically as I could that we had already been stopped, as a result of which we had been monitoring our speed, and there was not a chance that we were over-speeding.

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Laughing, the well-fed-looking officer smiled at me and asked me to relax and remain seated while he spoke with the taxi driver. After reasserting my point, I returned to the car. A few minutes later, the driver returned grimly to the car. Amazingly, he had gotten away with his notes intact.

The whole experience got me thinking well-well about this speed gun thing. My problem with it is a simple, common sense one:

  • There was nothing to indicate that it was our car that was over-speeding and not the one before it or after it.
  • There was nothing to show that the police officer had simply failed to reset the gun after having stopped someone else who had actually been over-speeding, whether minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or even years before.

All we – as citizens – have to go on is the fact that it is police officers waving these things in our faces and making  allegations. This is deeply problematic in a place in which the police are not trusted by the people.

Of course, I am not saying that every single police officer in Ghana is a criminal. I am sure that there are thousands hundreds tens of police officers across the country who are good, honest people; serious about doing their jobs to the best of their ability, in spite of all the frustrations they face from colleagues, from management and – let’s face it – from we, the people. Or maybe there are cops who are good some of the time and bad some of the time.

My girlfriend’s father explained to me that in the US, the court has a means of independently verifying the results from speed guns. Of course, to work here this would require violations to end up being settled in court, but this does not happen. This is something that we are all complicit in. By paying bribes, we do not allow the system to work. 

That said, I honestly suspect that a lot of our road laws (and the punishments meted out for failure to adhere to them) are simply impractical and need to be reviewed to take into account reality. If the system is – for example – set up to send people to court two or three regions away, then of COURSE it will be used as an excuse to extort people of money and OF COURSE people will pay. In formulating laws to break such bad habits up, you must begin on these assumptions and think more creatively about how to make fines work without bribes changing hands.

Unless there is some aspect to it that I am not privy to, the new system of spot fines seems to fail this test completely. It is as though Ghana Police Service’s senior officers are operating on the presumption that their subordinates will simply stop asking for bribes. Because management has asked them nicely or something.

Mtcheew.

I am a citizen of Ghana and I do not wish to needlessly antagonize our officers of the peace. That said, I issue this challenge to our Police Service: 

I say we look at the figures for accidents in Ghana before and after the introduction of these speed guns. If the number of road accidents has remained the same or increased since these guns were introduced, then taxpayer money has been wasted and someone in the police service should frankly be held to account. Maybe even publicly flogged. At the very least, this person should be charged for the cost of the guns (and taxpayers should be refunded for the money that has gone into police pockets for misuse of the guns). After the flogging and the refund, they should also be fired. The Minister who sat and watched this all happen should go too.

Even if the accident number has however dropped, there are several gaps in the law and procedure regarding the use of speed guns by the police that need to be plugged if we claim to be aspiring towards a better Ghana. Democracies that are better rooted than ours rely on separation of powers through various checks and balances to ensure that the State does not abuse or restrict the freedoms of its citizens. The State is – according to liberal theory – a necessary evil.

Yes oo: evil.

There is no inherent reason for us to trust our police force. In fact, even if by some miracle (and it would have to be a big TB Joshua-endorsed miracle or something) they earn our trust, there still need to be checks on them. This doesn’t just apply to Ghana: bad cops exist everywhere that there are cops. Hollywood has an entire sub-genre of films focused on the theme of the corrupt cop. I also remember the late, great philosopher, J Dilla‘s take on the subject too.

If I have written anything that is incorrect, I will gladly dedicate another blog post towards explaining how the speed gun system works and why it is in fact a fair system. After all, we could all benefit from such information. Going further, I will even dedicate more blog posts to other decent initiatives by the Police. I’m actually curious to know what good they do.

On the other hand, if any of my concerns are valid, then I suggest the Service puts its house in order. Before someone files a civil law suit or something.

Meanwhile, whether in my comments or on your own blogs, I invite you to share your stories – positive or negative – of your encounters with Ghana’s Police.

Life: Sorry – No #FollowBacks

I don’t understand Team Followback.

In fact, that’s a lie. I completely understand the joy that is felt when you discover that someone you admire is following you back. Where I differ from Team Followback however is in one word I used in that previous sentence:

Discover‘.

There is something to be said for discovering that someone follows you, rather than asking them to follow you. For one, it’s more likely that you are saying something that is worth being said. If someone follows me without my having asked them to, I would like to think that it’s because I add some value to their timeline… unless they have a blind policy of following anyone and everyone (which is just idiotic, for reasons I will explain shortly).

Of the last twenty people who asked me to follow them, I think I followed one of them. Maybe two. I tend to follow people who:

  1. Intelligently engage with an opinion I have expressed, or
  2. Whose interesting opinion has been retweeted by someone else on my timeline.

Thereafter, I go and check their timeline to see what else the new person has to say. If I’m still intrigued, I start following them. Doing this, I can honestly say that I value every single person I follow in some way, shape or form. Whenever someone tells me they don’t get anything out of Twitter, I tell them it says more about who they choose to follow than it says about Twitter.

Follow non-fa and don’t be surprised when you are bombarded with non-fa.

My problem with following just anyone is this: I enjoy looking at my Timeline. It is a lot more than just a cacophony of voices. I use it to follow people whose opinions interest me, people who retweet interesting things, people who are witty (not funny: witty. If you don’t know the difference, chances are you shouldn’t be asking me to follow you back), or friends, family members, colleagues or students who I want to keep tabs on. Call me snobbish, but I like to see wisdom, wit, pop culture, news, and – above all – opinions, observations and insight on my timeline.

As a result, I tend to it like a gardener tending to his garden. Weeds get pulled out.

  • Bigoted ideas
  • Using ‘text speak’ instead of decent English, Twi or pidgin
  • So-so “praise Jesus…” with no critical comment
  • Constant negativity
  • Bullying (especially where you lack the cahones to reveal your identity)
  • Argumentativeness for the sake of winning an argument
  • Vanity tweets & constant pictures of yourself

All weeds. All things that get weeded out, unless the person responsible regularly makes up for it somehow (and even then, they may find themselves muted on the regular).

My timeline is sacrosanct. So before you ask me to followback, please look at the last ten things you tweeted and ask yourself exactly what value you will be adding to my timeline.

If all your tweets have been conversations with friends of yours I do not know (and you weren’t even discussing anything of particular importance to anyone outside of your set of friends), why should anyone other than your friends be interested?

If you have something to say though, chances are I will eventually come across you anyway. If not, then just engage with something that I have said, whether you disagree with it or not. Chances are you may ending up teaching me something I don’t know, for which I’ll be eternally in your debt.

You should never have to ask.

Life: My Phone-o-phobia

I recently tweeted about my acute dislike of the phone. A friend asked me to explain myself. I said I would do so in a blog post because it’s that rare thing that a series of tweets cannot quite capture.

So here goes…

All of my friends have horror stories of  trying to get in touch with me. After overcoming the daily gauntlet of picking up the phone and getting a ringing tone (a gauntlet on account of all the problems bestowed on them so freely by our telecom providers), it is common for me not to pick up.

Bummer.

One friend recently pointed out that you’re far more likely to get a reply from me by sending me a tweet than by calling me. That was when it really hit me: I love Twitter.

More importantly however, I realized that I must have some kind of hatred for – or fear of – the mobile phone. Sounds strange – even to me – but the evidence is somewhat overwhelming.

Strike 1

I suspect that it began before I was at Joy FM, but it certainly got worse there. People who work at Joy easily find their numbers entering general circulation. This often results in random phone calls of the strangest possible kind from people who – if you’re lucky – have a lead to a news story (this is very rare), or who – if you’re not so lucky – like anything from the sound of your voice to the way you breathe into a mic. After umpteen such calls, I picked up the (bad) habit of ignoring numbers that I did not recognize, and told all of my people to send me a text if they ever made the mistake of calling me from a strange number.

I think the result of all of this is I have come to hate being immediately accessible to people. I prefer you leaving me some kind of message that allows me to decide when and in what form I want to get in touch with you. When people put pressure on me to be immediately accessible, it somehow makes me suspicious of them, unless I know they can expressly give me a genuinely important reason. Every single time.

Strike 2

I often find myself walking out of rooms to make or receive phone calls. Strangely, this is not because I have anything shady to talk about (I wish). It can be for something as mundane as making an appointment to meet someone for business, and it mostly happens in working environments. It is as though I become acutely aware that there are other people in the room who are listening in on the conversation, and making judgments on how I carried it out. Imagine going to a job interview where you get asked to make a phone call to a client in front of a panel of three judges, all writing notes while you talk. That is how I feel. All the time.

Of course, I realize that this is a completely irrational fear. Nevertheless, this is what goes on in my mind. It’s a daily battle. I sometimes win.

Strike 3

I enjoy turning off my phone. It is something that I do far less than people may think. If you cannot get through to me, it’s probably not because I’ve turned off my phone. It could be the telecom company or because my battery died. Once or twice a year however, it may actually be because I have turned my phone off altogether. I call these ‘phone holidays’ and I take them – unannounced (they are never planned. They just happen) – when I need a break from everything and everyone. Some people stress out when their phones are off. Not I. I feel an acute sense of freedom; the mental equivalent of chilling on a beach while sipping on an endless stream of cool, sweet-tasting cocktails presented to me by an equally endless stream of beautiful, conversation-saavy women before an unspeakably beautiful ocean view.

I have no idea where any of these habits come from (except Strike 1). I have had them for years. When I was a child and my father moved from London to Ghana, he would only call us at Christmas and on birthdays. I had no problems with this. In fact, I would look forward to them. It has become quite the norm amongst me and most of my siblings. Constant calling doesn’t show that you care. It just makes you a constant caller. On the flipside, my mother would later move to Geneva, and she spoke to me almost every day. I enjoyed that too. So that can’t be it. That said, I have a very different idea of missing people and the nature of friendship. I have no problems with long silences. They make catching up all the more fun, as you have more to talk about. Most of my friends have become used to this: I am not that guy who calls all the time. I am that guy who you can call when you really need help, who will bend over backwards to be there for you.

Having alternatives hasn’t helped…

Writing

I love writing. I live in my head a lot and find it a much better way of expressing my truest, innermost thoughts. Advantages? Nobody interrupts my train of thought. I don’t forget anything I want to say. Disadvantages? There is a written record of everything I write (evidence that can and will be used against me). This makes me very careful about what I set to paper. I think about every single sentence and every word I put down. Is this what I meant to say? How precisely does it capture the thought I am trying to express? Is it cliché? Can I say it better some other way? I have asked myself these questions for so long that they are now instinctive and have made me better at writing than I am at talking, where my train of thought can be interrupted or where I may forget a point. It has actually helped to improve the thinking behind my speaking.

However, give me a choice between writing and talking? Writing wins.

Every time.

Short Bursts

I do love a long, rambling conversation, but most of the time I find that people do not have much to say that cannot be summed up in an SMS or a tweet. So I do not understand it when people tell me that I am inaccessible when all they did was try to call me, when they could have sent me a tweet, a text or a whatsapp message. I start to take such people less seriously. The same applies to emails, really. I find myself piling them up, then taking one day to clear through all of them. I find this cathartic. I really don’t know why.

Social Media

I do love Twitter. Unlike Facebook, it brings me all these streams of various forms of information in one place. Importantly, it does so in short, succinct bursts: small pieces of information from several sources, instead of big chunks from a few. You choose what you want to hear more about and do so by following a link to a bigger article, or by engaging someone in conversation. Facebook – in my mind – is a place for people who enjoy and are easily distracted by pretty pictures. Twitter is sleek and minimalist. If you are not getting anything out of it, it says more about you and what you allow onto your timeline than it says about Twitter. Maybe you roll with #TeamFollowback and allow simply anyone to clutter your timeline. To each their own. I am very selective about who I follow and what I want to see on my timeline. It makes the whole thing a very pleasurable experience.

___

My friend was right.

You are much more likely to get a  response from me if you send me a direct message (DM) on Twitter. I recently came across someone who has removed the SIM card from his phone altogether and just uses Wifi to ensure that he is online all the time. I looked at the man like someone meeting Albert Einstein for the first time. Yesterday, I heard about someone who does not even put their number on their business card. Yes, I may lose business. But my life is not business-centered so I think I can live with that. After all, it works just fine for Kwasi Twum – the wealthy owner of the Multimedia Group (Joy FM, myjoyonline, MultiTV, Adom, Asempa, Luv FM, etc, etc) who famously lacks a phone too.

Weird? I know. But how for do? It’s how I feel. I do seek to improve myself, but I rarely apologize for the person that I am. I am very at peace with myself. On the balance of things, I’m told that I’m a good and likable person. I have flaws that I live with and hope others can too. If they cannot, they can decide not to have me in their lives and I will not begrudge them for it. This philosophy is what makes me the chilled out, no-sweat-no-stress person that I am told that I am. I have learned to love myself, flaws included.

This phone thing? Well… I’ve kept the damn thing so far, haven’t I? You can’t ask for much more than that.

If you’re lucky? You’ll get through to me.

If you’re someone I speak to often? Luckier you.

Another close friend suggested that perhaps I should just let people know about how I feel about all of this.

That is what I have done here.