Saturday 3 November 2012


According to convincing estimates I recently read, there are at least 3 billion cellphones in the world that include cameras. In fact that figure is from a couple of years ago so the number can only be bigger by now. It’s safe to assume that at least half the world’s population own a phone with a camera.

Then there’s Botswana. In a number of ways we’re exceptional and cellphone use is no exception. A report by the World Bank published just a few months ago and reported in Mmegi showed that for every 100 people in Botswana there were 144 mobile phone subscriptions. That placed us third in the world in the cellphone use league table ahead of industrialised countries like Germany (140), the UK (130), the USA (106) and Japan (95).

Of course that doesn’t mean we’re more advanced, more economically viable or stronger, I suspect it’s more to do with our geography. All of those other countries have a history of massive investment in landlines, we don’t. With our small population and huge size, getting landlines to everyone is never going to be possible.

I don’t live far out of Gaborone but even my “landline” from BTC is actually a cellphone pretending to be a conventional phone. My home and office internet connections are both wireless. Our geography makes us a largely wireless country.

Back to those cellphones. I can’t find any figures about how many of those 144 cellphones per 100 people have cameras but let’s guess it’s a half? I reckon that suggests a million cameras in consumer’s pockets every day of the week.

Do you have any idea how powerful that makes us?

Those cameras give consumers a remarkable strength. Evidence.

How many of us have been in situations when we wish we could prove something from the past? That our car DIDN’T have that dent before we gave it to the garage? That the cellphone WASN”T scratched before the company took it for repairs? That you COULD remember the serial number of the stolen computer?

Last week we got an email from a frustrated consumer who had bought a fancy LCD screen from a local store in 2010. Later that year his house was burgled and the screen was stolen. The police advised him to check his local police stations regularly to see if the screen appeared and luckily some time later he found a screen exactly the same as his in a collection of recovered property. All the police needed to allow him to take the screen home was proof that this particular screen was his. Could he provide a record of the serial number from when he bought it?

No, he couldn’t. He went back to the store but they couldn’t help him either. The irony is that he was disadvantaged by buying the screen for cash. The store only kept serial numbers of items that had been bought on credit, their insurance policy demanded that. They’ve since changed their system and now record serial numbers on all customer receipts but our reader was one of the unlucky ones who bought before the store changed their system.

However even if he had kept his receipt that might not have helped. We’ve heard from a number of readers who keep all their receipts unfailingly but when they need to retrieve one a couple of years later they find that the receipt has completely faded and no trace of the text can be seen. This is because more and more stores are using thermal printers at their points of sale. While these printers are quicker, cheaper and more convenient the receipts they produce aren’t permanent.

Is this an evil conspiracy by retailers to deprive us of our rights? No. it’s just a cock-up but it does leave you and me in an awkward situation, not being able to provide proof of purchase when needed. The answer is your cellphone.

We need to start taking pictures of everything. Take pictures of receipts before they fade. Take pictures of the serial number on the box. Take pictures of ANY problems you see with things you buy. DO it immediately, don’t wait.

Just as importantly take pictures of anything you think might be useful. Before you take your car for a service take a few snaps of it’s condition. Before you leave your rented house or office for the last time take some pictures to prove that it was in a good condition. When you move into a new rented property take pictures on the very first day of any problems, cracked windows, missing door handles, dangerous electrical sockets. Whenever you’re involved in an accident take pictures of everything, most importantly the registration numbers of other vehicles involved, any damage caused to your or other vehicles and, if you can do it discreetly, all the drivers and passengers involved.
Of course all of this is useless if you then lose your phone. I don’t know of any cellphone with a camera that doesn’t allow you to transfer pictures to a computer as a backup. Make sure you do this as often as possible. If you don’t have a computer yourself, find a friend who does and buy them lunch to thank them for lending you some disc space.

These days there’s no excuse for not doing this. I bet everyone reading this newspaper has a cellphone with a camera built in, why not use it to protect your consumer rights as well as taking pictures of your kids, partner and whatever naughtiness you’re getting up to?

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