Today, I sat down to a meeting with another media professional who has worked in Africa for much longer than I have. As the meeting began, we both took out our Moleskins and I commented on just how far technology had come. When I embarked on my first overseas mission in 2004, I realised then that I would need specialist equipment. What frustrates me eight years later is that it’s still so hard to find.
Yesterday, I purchased a dual-sim smart phone. I have been looking for one for six months. I know for a fact that it's not only celebrity cricket players with wives and mistresses who have more than one active mobile number. Ordinary people who travel would, I’m sure, like to have a home number active while using a cheaper local SIM card and, judging by the number of single people in airports, solitary travellers are not a minority. But it’s not just phones that need to go beyond the usual call of duty.
I am grateful to VAIO for the fact that they still manufacture in Japan. This means that my laptop survives 45 degree heat, ten hours in the back of 4WD on potholed roads, dust-storms that last days and it still boots up every time. Likewise Bose, for creating a travel speaker that is robust enough to be packed into a soft-sided case with the rest of my gear and still connects via Bluetooth to my computer at the end of the day filling the cheap hotel room or guest house I happen to be staying in that night with near perfect sound. But the speaker, like the phone, took months to find.
As a marketer I am continually frustrated at the lack of decent equipment available in places where you need it the most. When you have decent equipment, you don’t need technical support. A returns policy or 24 hour online help are not a selling points to me. If a device breaks down, I am usually hundreds of kilometres and weeks away from the nearest service centre. Sometimes, I am also out of phone contact or low on credit, rendering call centre support redundant. More often than not, internet connectivity is non-existent, making online help laughable.
When I am able to find what I need, it is usually more than twice as expensive as standard products. And while I feel the pain in my pocket, it’s completely out of reach for most of my colleagues, who have families to support, let alone your average African villager. I often laugh when people ask why I don’t have children and tell them I have equipment instead.
We never pay what it costs to produce an item, we always pay what the market deems it to be worth. It seems that I, for one, would trade my first born for decent equipment.