*Greeting cards, post office, cybercafés, others face extinction
By Alvan Ewuzie and Vincent Kalu
At the post office in Festac town Lagos, Mr Badmus Ake, a man in his seventies walked out of the gate clutching some envelopes. One of our curious reporters drew closer and asked him politely if those were letters and where they came from. He looked up in apparent bewilderment and said they were his share dividend certificates, which he got from his post office box he had maintained over the years.
“Do people still write letters?” he asked the reporter as though it was strange that he asked about letters. “My children and grandchildren do not write letters to me. They call me on phone and say what they want. During my birthday, they call me, why should they write letters when they can speak to me in a matter of minutes. Even those dividends I came to collect I have been told that I can have them paid directly into my bank account” he said
He was not alone. Obinna Nzekwe, a university student says he has never been to a post office, saying all he knew about the place was in his primary school days when they were taught that one of the earliest post offices in Nigeria was established in Calabar in 1891. He is 20 and had never been to the post office for anything.
Meanwhile, the post office has become the joke of the preacher who addressed a handful of people admonishing them about eternal life and later asked one of the young men to show him the way to the post office.
“Really” the young man said, laughing “you know the way to heaven but you do not even know the way to the post office”
Mrs Bosede Agbabiaka, a staff of Nigerian Postal Service says people still come to the post office, not to post letters, but to buy stamps to put in statutory receipts as required by law and to send parcels to various parts of the country. She says the postal service has improved in speed of delivery such that they now compete with courier companies. “Many people still send parcels abroad though us because our rates are relatively better than competitors. People still come to send books and other documents”, she said. She however admitted that letters seem to have been consigned to the past as they are rarely seen these days.
Greeting/Seasonal cards fading away
Mrs. Glory Mudozi, a stationery dealer last weekend, brought out cartons of unsold cards, comprising, season’s greetings, birthday, valentine, success cards etc, for destruction. While setting them on fire, she was bemoaning the loss she has incurred.
According to her, for over five years, the cards had been on display on the shelves and the weather has impacted negatively on some of them while customers were not forthcoming to ask for them.
She would not let them occupy space in her shop. She would rather cut her losses early than keep them, waste the space and still throw them away on the long run. The value of the cards runs into thousands of naira.
No one could accuse Mrs. Mudozi of not having business sense by stocking the cards, but she fell victim to the advent of technology. People would rather send text messages through their phone handsets to their loved ones than waste time sending cards.
She is not the only one in this boat. While her own was greeting cards, others in various lines of business and occupations have been swept away by the tide of digital technology. A card seller at Oshodi market, Lagos told Saturday Sun how profitable card business was but regretted that those good old days were over. He said before and during Christmas season, he would make over N60, 000 and as a result, they had association of card sellers/dealers, which died naturally with the coming of GSM.
Over the past few years, many lines of business and vocations, including greeting cards producers and sellers, cybercafés, post office, photographers, and producers of other personal effects, like torch lights, calculators and timepieces etc, are facing extinction, or being threatened by the fast changing world of digital technology.
Digital convergence is the priming of underlying digital technology components and features such as voice, texts, video, pictures, broadcasts, presentation, streaming media, global connectivity and personalised services.
It is the combination of all of these features and abilities from multiple electronic systems into a simplified, converged and computer-mediated communication system to enable individuals interact, play, communicate, collaborate and share information in many new and different ways.
Now television can provide access to all information on a single screen. For example, an LED TV easily connects to a game console, a computer, Blu-ray players and also Internet router, allowing the user access mail directly from living room.
Smartphone can be connected to screens. With Smartphone, apart from the traditional phone calls, you can take videos, share videos; take photos, share photos; record voice, share recorded voice; radio, scientific calculators, torchlights, timepiece, organiser, geographical maps and many other applications. Some phones can even let you know your blood pressure and heart beat rate.
Before the advent of mobile phones, it was the fad to exchange Christmas cards. That era has also been truncated, and now most people have keyed into the digital era and have even elevated it using phones.
During that time, so much money was spent sending Christmas greeting cards to friends and relations. Some had to send through post office, especially for those going outside the city, while some people took the pains of going to deliver the cards personally. Instances abound where some of the posted cards never got to the recipients until after the season.
Those days of hassles are over. Text messages sent through handsets have virtually replaced that process. People started sending those greeting messages via text at their conveniences and at rates that did not bore a hole in their pockets. The cost of a card could pay for messages to ten people or more, an indication that the digital era is cheaper and faster.
Even with Smartphones, the field got wider because Whatsapp applications allows you to present the message in diverse forms and churn out to as many recipients as possible at no cost especially if you are in an environment that is Wifi enabled.
In this direction, those in the shoes of Mrs. Mudozi have expressed the sentiment of technology bringing down their businesses or taking over their vocations.
However, Dr. Olunifesi Suraj, a lecturer in communications said the development of digital technology has only made people do the same thing in different ways.
According to him, people have accused technology of killing business or trying to kill business, but it is not so, as he said technology has only come to enhance businesses; it has come to reduce the cost of doing business; it has also brought efficiency and productivity in business.
He said: “We are in a virtual world. So, people are migrating from physical world to virtual world. Technology on the go; mobile phones are on; there are so many platforms that you can use to communicate unlike in the past, where the telephone you have was the ordinary fixed line and before you could call people you have to go to cities and even at the cities, it was a privilege. In this changing world, where businesses are done at the speed of time, and things change rapidly and you have information overload, it just tells us that people need to change their orientation and use technology to enhances their business rather than wait and think that their business is not threatened by technology”.
NIPOST grapple for survival
The victims of this digital revolution are legion. Vincent Emetu, subscribed to a box at Ijesha Post Office in 1995, and was allocated box 342. According to him, though he is still with the key to the box, he has not been there for the past 11 years and has not cared to pay the yearly renewal fee because the box doesn’t serve him any purpose anymore.
Years back, the premises of Nigerian post offices used to be central points for organisations, families and schools to receive or send letters and other parcels. But, in the past 13 years, NIPOST has had to grapple with the challenges of Information Communication Technology, forcing a paradigm shift from established modes of conducting business.
Today, most of the NIPOST premises that used to be hubs of activities are no longer so. Most of the ancient buildings, though not lacking in architectural aesthetics, now stand like gloomy edifices.
At Ikeja General Post Office, on Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, last Monday, there were just a handful of people by a counter. Out of about five counters, only two had people in them. The others were empty. Even some of the attendants on the empty counters had their heads bent on the desk, an indication that they had nothing to do. The Special Delivery Service area where courier and other services are supposed to be taking place, were not any better. No one could be seen to be buying the conventional stamps either. Other post offices are not better. Most people who have post office boxes said they are for receiving dividend warrants or letters for annual general meetings of companies.
The younger generations of Nigerians do not feel comfortable using the post office. Many have argued that using the social media brings about intimacy and speed of sending messages.
Pa Edward Ajie, 78-year-old retired civil servant wailed over the fading glory of the post office and attributed it to the ICT era and what he called the ‘laziness’ of the young generation to preserve institutions. He said: “I think the problem is that we are now used to telephones, SMS and instant messaging with the invention of information technology, where sending mail is getting faster all the time. It’s just unfortunate that the younger people now find the physical postal/courier business a great inconvenience. It’s not like post offices have moved outside of town, they’re in the same places”.
Moses Adeoye, a building contractor, who lives at Festac Town, told Saturday Sun that he last visited the post office more than 10 years ago. “These days, an average Nigerian makes use of the electronic media. I make use of my facebook page, my phone and the Internet via my email. To me, NIPOST isn’t functioning hence, it should be scraped”, he suggested.
A retired nurse, Mrs. Alice Ukpong could not equally remember sending a letter through the post office since the inception of the internet and social media. “I talk to family and friends via facebook, emails and l send text messages. To be honest, the social media is not helping our children because they do not read and they can hardly write; they fail woefully in written examinations. We should learn to balance everything we do because it is wrong to forget a good habit because of a new trend in town that is not so healthy. Posterity wouldn’t forgive us if the negligence is left to go on this way. The government can make NIPOST to come alive again”, she said.
Evangelist Tony Unama, said, her post office box in Ijanikin, Lagos is only meant for share dividends and other correspondence pertaining to her shares. “ Outside that, I dont have need for the box; it doesn’t serve any purpose. l use my phone to call my friends, family and loved ones all over the world. I send text messages with my phone too. I use the Internet to access my facebook page, my email, my twitter account and all that”
Cyber café worse hit
When Dave Mba, established a cybercafé in 2007, the internet centre was a beehive of activity. By 2012, the business started experiencing hard times, because few customers were coming and he had to renew subscription every month. However, by the end of 2013, the centre couldn’t generate money to renew its monthly subscription, and the cybercafé closed shop.
Cyber cafes, hitherto, presented the best way to get cheap Internet service in Nigeria. In 2003, Nigeria has about 15,000 cyber cafes and about 10,000 of them were in Lagos but presently, there are less than 1,000.
The business was booming, but the advent of GSM with various telecommunications service providers introducing Internet modems was a major setback for the business while the introduction of smart phones sounded the death knell. People were going to the cyber cafes to browse, but most of the things that took them to the centres are easily done with their phones at any place and anytime now.
Now, what the few cybercafés do is just registration of examinations – Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), GCE, NECCO for external candidates and checking of results of these examinations, and occasionally, online job recruitments.
Speaking to Saturday Sun, on the near death of cyber cafes, Prince Secha Imeh, a telecommunications consultant, said it is not unexpected because in this fast developing world of technology, changes are so swift that if you just stick to one idea you would be swept off by the tide.
Photography also affected
Photographers are equally victims of the digital revolution. The resolution of some of the smartphones is even higher than some of the cameras used by the professional photographers.
Jide, a campus photographer at the Lagos State University, Ojo, is not finding it easy anymore. He told Saturday Sun, how their businesses have nosedived. According to him, “in the past, they were making money as campus photographers, where students find pleasure in taking photographs, but these days, almost all the students own smart phones, and all the times you see them taking photos with their phones and that is a big minus for us. If they care to print the photos, they would just remove the memory cards and print them at photo laboratory. What we do now is just to take passport pictures. Before there were so many of us, and because the patronage is low that is why we are few now. The only time we make money is during course registration by students”.
Idowu, a part three student in the department of philosophy, LASU, Ojo, said he could not remember the last time he posed before a professional photographer for pictures. According to him, what they could do with their cameras, he can do better with his phone, which has a very high resolution.
Some families during ceremonies never cared for the services of professional photographers as members of the family armed with their phones take beautiful photographs that would have made the presence of a photographer irrelevant.
Some people have equally seen the phone sets as alternative to wristwatch, while it serves as handy calculators, as well as, torchlight at the domestic fronts.
Some businesses have also gone extinct or on the verge of doing so. Technology has become their burial ground.