A year ago, I didn't have WeChat or WhatsApp on my phone. Now, I can't manage without them.
Mobile phones are invaluable but intrusive. Instant-messaging clients and SMS have been around for years, and naturally I use them for communication.
But I've always felt that these comms are like "walkie-talkies": for essential information, perhaps the occasional snarky comment. You don't hog the channel because...it's a walkie-talkie – makes sense?
Now we have these OTT services. At first, I resisted. They seemed too demanding – all that staring at the screen and furious thumb-typing. MTR carriages full of phone zombies, blah blah blah.
That was then, this is now.
Resistance is futile
Blame on the absurdity of roaming. Consider the case of Adam Savage.
In 2009, Savage went to Canada with his AT&T USB Connect Mercury modem and did a bit of web-surfing. He wasn't thrilled with the subsequent ~US$11,000 bill presented by AT&T (which cut off his phone in spite). But as co-star of the popular TV show Mythbusters, he had about 50,000 Twitter followers – a ready resource for reversal of ridiculous roaming charges.
The current glut of unlocked phones combined with inexpensive pre-paid SIM cards means that roaming is now synchronized: when I roam, I pop the appropriate SIM card into my phone before I get off the plane.
The killer feature of the killer app
Of course the new SIM gives me a new telephone number, but my WeChat & WhatsApp handles don't change. This – more than any other single feature – is what drives me to these OTT services. Some operators offer special packages for those services and/or LINE – if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!
I can still use SMS and even make phone calls, but increasingly, my non-email-comms are shifting to these OTT platforms. Work is one reason – the capability to make messaging-groups is cross-platform and international on one of the major OTT platforms.
Added functionality, greater productivity, and lower cost. Remember when "MMS" was new, exciting ... and expensive? Nowadays you snap a pic with the phone to show a product or location as part of your overall comms ("Buy this one? Meet at this place?") and send it using an OTT app.
So I have all sorts of wonderful qualifications for the addiction that keeps me close to my phone. Yes, it's still point-to-point comms – I don't play games (do they even have games?) or send frivolous stuff. Except for that hilarious dancing rabbit, becomes sometimes that's just gotta go flying through cyberspace to the appropriate phone-owner.
And therein lies the danger. The OTT apps offer more fun options. I find myself spending more time cradling my phone and punching its buttons nowadays – yes, productivity and communications are key, but there's a sprinkling of silliness, and why not?
I can live with the trade-off. But then again, don't all addicts say exactly the same thing?
Now if you'll excuse me, there's a new set of icons on WeChat I need to check out.