Is SMS messaging an informal or formal means of communication in Ghana?

Human beings cannot co-exist without communicating. Communication  is therefore extremely essential in every human institution.  Though Africans have warmly embraced the Information and Communication Technology, yet the traditional approach to communication has not been entirely abandoned.

Before the advent of civilisation in Ghana, the local  people communicated in the most indigenous and innovative ways.  Information dissemination was the pure reserve of the authorities of the land. This statement however,  does not  discredit the existence of rumours, but the authenticity of the information was always established by the authorities of the land. The announcement of a durbar, the commencement of a festival or any other useful information is done by the ‘gong-gong’ beater. He moves around the entire village, beats the gong to get the attention of  the people then relays the necessary information to them.  Sometimes, the message is coded with  proverbs and idiomatic expressions, because not all hearers of the information are the intended audience of  it. Usually, when information is coded in such a way, it means it is meant for the very old and wise in the community. The information however comes from the ruler of the land, but due to the  formality that needs to be observed, the ‘gong-gong’  beater relays the information. This is exactly what is done even in this computer age. Information is very important, therefore it must be treated with the necessary care. If care is not  taken in passing on the intended information, there could be chaos in the society. Hence all these stringent measures are not a mere formality, but to ensure that  the right information reaches the intended audience.

The death of the President of this country has drawn my attention to the way and manner in which information is disseminated  in Ghana. One of the fasted ways of sending messages nowadays is the use of SMS on mobile phones. It is an extremely fast and economical way of sending  messages. Yet it seems in the Ghanaian society, it is deemed as not an inappropriate way of communicating certain messages and to certain people in the society.  It would be considered as extremely derogatory for an individual to send a text message to another person telling him about the death of the President. Also, it is totally ridiculous for an unemployed person to send a text message to the company he intends to work for, enquiring about a possible placement.  Well I believe this tradition dates back to the days when we did not have all these sophisticated gadgets. One could just walk to the chief of the land and deliver a message, yet the message is first received by the linguist and then relayed to the chief. Though the former seems more appropriate for the transfer of the exact message, the latter is deemed more dignified. Also, though it seems outmoded, it has clearly affected even the literate community of this country and it is still practised in chieftaincy circles. Still on the death of the President, though the news was all over the place, a delegation of government officials were sent to the Asantehene, a few days after the news broke out, to formally inform him. This  only signifies that the most dignified method of relaying information to a receiver of high status in this country, is a face to face encounter. That totally deletes SMS from the list of possible options of mediums of dissemination some information.

You would not be far from right when you conclude that, the SMS is regarded as a more informal means of sending messages. In a formal setting, like applying for a job interview, one may resort to SMS , if only  it is stated in the instructions stated for applying. Furthermore, in information flow from higher authorities to people of lower status,  less formality is observed. The ‘gong- gong’ beater is a classic example. In the corporate world, various companies communicate with their subscribers and customers through text messages. For example, banks often communicate with their customers through text messages. Yet, a customer’s request to the Manager of the bank might be ignored if it was sent through a text message.

SMS is however one of the cheapest ways to send messages to so many people at the same time from far and near. This is a quality  that the ‘gong-gong’  beater , would  love to possess.  It is only quite unfortunate that this efficient medium of communication has been robbed of its dignity, hence SMS messaging has been to a certain extent, limited to informal communication.