Wednesday, December 28 2011
As the year nears its end, Nairobi resident Grace Odongo does not expect to receive greeting cards from her loved ones to wish her a prosperous 2012 nor does the 24-year-old university student intend to send any herself despite the many friends she has.
“I am not going to send cards. I did not do it over Christmas and I do not feel it will be necessary on New Year’s Eve,” she said. Instead, like millions of other Kenyans, Odongo will send text messages via cell phone and use the social media to wish her friends and family a successful 2012.
The practice has gained currency in the country thanks to the extensive use of social media and a rise in mobile phone subscribers. It is estimated that there are more than 22 million mobile phone subscribers and more than a million active users of social media among Kenya’s population of about 40 million.
Mobile phones and social media have conspired to kill a long-time tradition in Kenya, as in many other countries across the world, of sending cards to loved ones during important events. “It is no longer fashionable to physically send cards to people,” Odongo said. She said social media and mobile phones have become a more convenient, faster and cheaper way of communication. “With mobile phones, all you need to do is to write a Christmas or New Year message and send at once to several friends by the click of a button,” she said. “This cannot be compared to cards, of which one has to buy several, write messages and then send to friends. It is expensive and the card takes time to reach the recipient,” Odongo said.
As Kenyans turn to convenient means of sending messages, the business of many greeting card sellers is suffering. “Mobile phones and the social media are killing our business,” lamented Flora Kimani, who deals in handmade cards in the capital. “The New Year is approaching but I do not have any orders yet,” she said. “In the previous years, I used to make over 500 cards for both individuals and organizations towards the end of the year. Business was good because people preferred handmade cards to machine made ones,” she said.
However, things have changed for the worst for Kimani and other card traders. “I made less than 100 cards this festive season. The bulk of them were for organisations. I had less than 10 individual customers,” said Kimani, who sells each card for between 2.4 and 4.5 U.S. dollars. Most individuals who sought Kimani’s products during Christmas Eve were high-end clients, who she said still valued the tradition of sending cards.
But even organisations, the remaining big clients for Kimani, are also turning to e-cards to send messages to their employees and clients. “The last time the company sent us cards is two years ago,” said Mark Amunga, an employee of an advertising firm in Nairobi. “This year, they send to all of us e-cards in our email accounts wishing us a merry Christmas and a happy New Year,” he said. Amunga said that while the practice helped the company save money, it reduced the “personal touch” between the organization and its employees.
“The physical card is the best since you can keep it in your house or desk and it reminds you that a company or a person values you. But with e-card, you forget about it immediately after reading it on the Internet,” he said. (Xinhua)