A BBC World Service piece I did on the tenacity of a device that perhaps should have been binned long ago: the Communicator.
I wrote a couple of weeks back in the WSJ (subscription only, sorry) about the Nokia Communicator (aka The Brick) and its enduring popularity in Indonesia, where it plays important role as fashion symbol, ostentatious and yet deliverable gift to impressionable officials and, where necessary, hand combat weapon. What I found difficult to capture in print are the distinctive, and distinct, ways in which Indonesian users carry, hold, or use their Communicators. It’s a subculture of its own that deserves a grant or two.
Luckily while I was in Surabaya, where the conference of Nokia Communicators was held, I stumbled upon a National Leadership Meeting of Gapeknas (a horrible website, I don’t recommend you visit it. Gapeknas is the acronym for Gabungan Pengusaha Kontraktor Nasional, or National Contractors’ Association) where the photos outside captured better than I could these important behavioural indicators.
First off, usage. As illustrated by our Gapeknes model, Communicator users are most likely to be found hunched over their open devices, the right hand cradling the buttons on the right hand of the screen, the left resting somewhere near the ‘A’ key, either about to fire off a deal-making SMS message or else trying to figure out how to to turn the unit on.
When not in use, the unit can either be placed on the table in front of you, usually closed but at an angle in case the above action needs to be perfomed in a hurry. Alternatively, if engaged in conversation, the user can hold the device in his or her right hand, the keyboard facing inwards (see picture). This ensures that a) the device is visible at all times to the interlocutor, b) it can serve to emphasise any points the owner should choose to make, by raising the device around while being careful not to knock over any of the ubiquitous glasses of water found at such events, or, c) the unit can be deployed as a weapon should the conversation get heated.
Finally, when mobile, the device is best inserted in a leather holster (provided) attached to one’s belt. The holster can be as ostentatious as one likes, since much of the value of the Communicator lies in its visibility. Holsters can be horizontal (see picture) or vertical. The important thing is that they should not be hidden by outer garments, and the user must be practised in removing them quickly, in case, for example, of passing through metal detectors or comparing them with fellow enthusiasts.
Lastly, I mentioned in the piece that Nokia was successful at the convention — the biggest ever gathering of Communicator users, they say — at getting everyone to stand on their seats and wave their devices around in the air in exchange for prizes (more holsters). Here’s a picture, courtesy of Nokia, of them doing it. I particularly like the blue glow given off by the units’ displays, and, the fact that only a pregnant woman and an elderly, somewhat baffled, gentleman on the left, aren’t joining in. Clearly not die-hard Communicator users.