Opinions Wed, 23 Nov 2016

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How do I stop my friends from sending me useless videos and messages?

It used to be fun. It is no longer so. At first, it was just a few friends sending you some funny stuff through emails. You had time to read them because they were few and far between. Then it went to digital photos and videos. But they were short ones and you didn’t mind. Then came smartphones.

But only your rich friends had them. Now, everybody has one, can take videos and photos and send them around. And you are deluged with them. And you don’t like them anymore.

My problem is how to stop my friends from sending me such things especially by Whatsapp. I am fed up. Yes, I know I can just delete them anytime I get them. Or I can just ask them not to send me such things. But I like my friends and I don’t want to disappoint them. I also know I can unfriend them or block their numbers. But you do not do such things to your friends

I like a good joke or a wise word but that is not what I get these days. Instead, I receive some corny sentimental twaddle. It is strange what some people think is so much wisdom that they wish to share it with everybody. But, often, these “words of wisdom” are some trite, cheap old saying that you came across when you were in secondary school 40 years ago!

But the ones that bore me most are the religious stuff especially cheap gospel music from Ghana. Sometimes, some old hymns are made into cheap videos of flowers or some heavenly looking meadows, valleys and mountains. Some are so gooey I wonder how people can endure them to such an extent that they impose them on others!

Then there are all these videos of funny sketches many of them from Nigeria. Some can be funny but most of them are not or are so in a cheap sort of way. You see, doing something really funny requires talent.

I don’t understand people who send lengthy videos or articles to their friends. They expect you to stop whatever you’re doing and spend time on these things that may not be important in any way or connected with your work. As a rule, I send any video I receive that is more than 90 seconds straight into the dustbin without viewing it and empty the bin immediately.

Sometimes, people send you things and require you to send them to x number of people so that something good will happen to you. Na lie!!! Didn’t we do these things when we were in secondary school? Those were the days without computers and we had to laboriously write these things out on paper torn from our exercise books and send to our friends hoping that the Holy Virgin Mary will shower her blessings on us in form of some tangible rewards. Some of these chain letters even threatened you with some calamity if you didn’t send them on to the required number of people often ten (a round number) or seven (a magical one). Some of them also asked you to say x number of Holy Marys or perform some novena. What did we get out of these? Today, when I get things urging me to spread them, I take that as the very reason why I should not burden anyone with them.

You receive something from a friend. You open it eagerly and realise that it is something you have seen five years ago. Some people call such recycled messages PastQo (for Past questions whose answers you already know). You may also receive something from someone who had first gotten it from you but had forgotten that fact. Hmmm…

Some people also use the new media to knowingly or unknowingly spread false information. I once received one giving you advice on what food items to avoid. The list was so long and contained every item I can ever think of eating that I wondered what really one was allowed to eat! It was then that I realised that the whole thing may be a joke. What happens to the credulous that do not see the joke? Then there is the one about the last words of Steve Jobs. Even the mere length of the passage and the details would tell anyone these could not be the last words of any dying man.

Anyone who read Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography of Steve Jobs knows the man’s last words, according to his sister who was at his deathbed, were: Oh wow, oh wow oh wow!!! So I quickly told my sender that it was a lie and he shouldn’t send such things on to others else he would be exposing his own ignorance and credulity. But spreading false messages can have worse consequences than that as Facebook and Google are currently realising over their alleged roles in Trump’s victory.

There are also those who send messages to group mails. Some of them don’t know to use the BCC function and expose the addresses to everybody on the list easily attracting scam mail. Even worst is the fact that they don’t know if the people really read the things they are being sent or even want them in the first place. I have a friend who had been sending his biblically inspired messages to a long list of people. One day he tucked a message to the end of one of them asking those who wanted to continue receiving the messages to indicate so by return mail. Only two out of 60 people responded. It was only then that he discovered virtually nobody was reading his messages. Some people do not care if the people they send things to really like what they are being sent. They take it for granted that if they like something, then their friends too will like the thing. This is true only if you and your friend are like-minded and appreciate similar things.

Another difficulty is with those who send huge files (often videos) to people with weak internet connections. This is especially so with Ghanaian internet connections. Not many people have fast broadband connections in Ghana and huge files can be costly for them. Next time you send a useless joke to somebody in Ghana, consider this fact. Even people abroad who have fast connections may have subscriptions with limited data which they would prefer to spend on more important things than downloading your cheap jokes. Some people too may simply not have enough space left on their phones to download your big file.

Of course, there are jokes and witty sayings, apothegms, aphorisms or epigrams that I like. Often, the best jokes are short. Brevity also imposes some intellectual rigour on the viewer or reader. Some jokes lose their humour if they have to be explained or if they take a long time to be understood.

Some jokes are so nice you keep them and return to them now and then. Call them intellectual if you want to. They are classy. There is the example of one sent me some years ago titled INSULTS WITH CLASS. It contains classics like the heated exchange in parliament between Lady Nancy Astor, first female member of the British Parliament known for her sharp wit, and Winston Churchill, another sharp wit:

Lady Astor: If you were my husband, I’d give you poison!

Winston Churchill promptly replies: If you were my wife, I’d drink it!

And another about what William Faulkner is said to have said of Ernest Hemingway: He has never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary.

Yes, even insults can have class!

But by far, the jokes that trend most are the ones with some prurient content. Many of us will remember the one a few years ago when a jilted lover, one Ama Oparebea in the USA, sent a voice mail to her quondam lover, Richard Asante, and his new girl, Afua Gyamfua Sheila, in Tolonto, Canada. The very foul language and the titillating details of the sexual encounters were what interested many people and elicited inputs from Ghanaians in London, Ghana and even South Africa. Of course, if you are the prudish type, you want nothing of such jokes.

As I am finishing this piece, my phone goes Pling! I look at it and it’s a friend who is fond of sending me things I really don’t want to see. So I throw up my hands in the air and say: Oh not again!

Kofi Amenyo (kofi.amenyo@yahoo.com)

Columnist: Amenyo, Kofi

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