Talk about a sign of the times. Damien Cave’s article in today’s New York Times paints a brutally grim picture of life for the "cool kids" in Iraq.
According to Cave’s story, the "must-have" fashion accessory of the moment with Iraqi kids is a cell phone nicknamed the "Apache" after the U.S. military helicopter. Also high on the kids’ lists are Humvees and Nokia cell phones.
While the cell phones as fashion statements are interesting, what’s more telling are the text messages kids are sending to one another. According to Cave, the kids in Iraq text message one another all day long to commiserate about the bombings, kidnappings and incessant violence. One of the more popular messages, accompanied by the image of a skeleton, reads: "Your call cannot be completed because the subscriber has been bombed or kidnapped." Talk about gallows humor.
It seems to me that, no matter how hard they try, the U.S. Government can’t spin the real-world text messages of Iraqi kids, whose world has been turned upside down by death and destruction. And, it’s not just the kids who rely on cell phones. Iraqis of all ages use the cell phones to tell loved ones how they plan to get to and from work each day. While it may seem mundane to us, such a communiqué is critical, considering that taking the wrong turn could be the last move an Iraqi makes in this lifetime.
How interesting that, unlike here, where we see cell phones and text messaging as hip, cool ways in which to communicate, Iraqis see them as a mission critical staple of survival. So, while I use a cell phone to let my assistant know that, once again, my New Jersey Transit train is running late, 50-year-old Jabar Satar Salaum uses his cell phone to alert his wife where he is every few minutes on the commute home. He also uses it to find out if any routes may have been damaged by recent bombs or blocked by military checkpoints.
As you might expect, cell phones are in great demand in Iraq, and the number has increased from 1.4 million users only two years ago to 7.1 million today. Sadly, though, the phones are being used to help Iraqis cope with a nightmare. As one Iraqi college student told Cave, "Its’ important. You have to have a cell phone. If I go to college, or anyplace really, my parents call me like 100 times to see if I’m safe."
While the young Iraqi’s quote makes for a great testimonial, I don’t think we’ll be seeing Nokia or Motorola using it in their commercials any time soon. This is one story that can’t and won’t be spun by either the public or private sectors.