The Thinker: Smartphone Society
What used to be a very expensive gadget and owned only by the rich or used by people with important positions in government offices or business corporations, the cellular phone has now become a popular tool of communication for every man and woman on the street.
Rapid development of telecommunication technology and industry has made it possible for people to have and use the sophisticated gadgets at much cheaper prices and far easier procedures.
The price of a mobile phone in the late 1980s was around Rp 50 million and owners had to get a license from the government before they could use the portable gadgets. The company I worked for owned one and I found that although the mobile set was portable, it was, nevertheless, impractical because it was placed in a box measuring around 30x30x20 centimeters.
It was hope against hope that an employee could own a cellular phone then, due to its exorbitant price. Even middle managers, whose monthly salaries ranged between Rp 3.5 million and Rp 5 million, had to save for years before they could afford to buy a portable telephone.
Today, domestic helpers in Jakarta or in other big cities can buy a cellular phone at one go after they receive their wage at the end of the month. True, certain branded cell phones are still offered at relatively high prices, from Rp 5 million to Rp 10 million ($475-$900), but many generic brands are available for only a few hundred thousand rupiah.
Besides the affordable prices, today’s cell phones, though much smaller and thinner in size, can be easily put in a pocket or handbag, and provide a myriad features like digital camera, radio receiver, Internet browser and games. Thus, the function of the mobile telephone has changed: from an instrument for talking with people at the other end of the line to a sophisticated electronic gadget.
The presence of smart phones has undoubtedly changed people’s lifestyles one way or another. It is both a blessing and a curse, depending on whether owners use their phones wisely or not.
People with great mobility, traveling salespeople, for example, surely enjoy the use of smart phones the most because they can readily communicate with their customers at any time in any place without having to wait to find a pay telephone booth.
People who feel lonely can also chat or exchange messages with their friends through SMS to ease their loneliness.
Recently, my friend told me that she had persuaded her husband and two teenage daughters to agree that whenever they held a family gathering or dined at a restaurant, they must turn off their cellular phones as she did not want her spouse and children to ruin the happy moments by answering calls and messages or browsing websites or playing games in the gadgets.
To a certain extent, her “extreme” was right. I have often seen couples, sitting face to face, engrossed in their smart phones, minutes after they had ordered their meal, as if they were complete strangers.
Isn’t it strange that an instrument designed to bring people closer ended up alienating people whose presence was merely at arm’s length?
The transmission of pornographic pictures and videos through smart phones is another curse that the public has to remove. Parents must, periodically, ensure that the gadgets used by their children contain no such improper materials, because the appropriate use of cell phones is to bring people closer to each other, and heighten the awareness of their surroundings as well as their levels of intelligence.
The use of smart phones is indispensable as part of our modern lives as it enables us to work effectively and to obtain useful information more instantaneously. This explains why many governments around the world have made great strides in lowering telecommunication tariffs, affordable to people from all layers of society.
Oei Eng Goan is a freelance journalist and writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.