Mobile phones are everywhere these days. We see people of all ages — from toddlers in strollers to their grandparents — using mobile phones, particularly the ubiquitous smartphone. We use smartphones to indulge in leisure activities and to work. It certainly seems to me that most people in Singapore nowadays cannot, or dare not, imagine life without a smartphone. In that sense, the statement above is true.
Among those who can afford it, the smartphone has become a status symbol, and for those who are concerned about projecting an affluent image, the smartphone has become a necessary part of themselves. Like branded clothing, the smartphone can be used to signal to others that we are ‘civilised’ or at least fashionable. It is no longer enough for some to own a functioning smartphone. There are, in fact, functioning smartphones on the market now that have very much the same capabilities as branded, more prestigious smartphones. Branded smartphones can cost up to five times more than their cheaper, less prestigious counterparts, but you will never catch certain image-conscious consumers with non-branded smartphones. It is not about functionality for these people — it is about projecting an image that says that they are up to date with the latest fashions and equipment, and that they can afford such toys for themselves.
Another two groups of people rely on the functionality of smartphones. One group would not mind using cheaper equipment if it can help them send emails, access research material, and aid them with other work-related tasks. This group of people values the smartphone for the portability it affords them. In the past, workaholics had to stay in the office or in front of a computer to do their work. Now everyone can take our work anywhere we go – on public transport, to social events, to dinner, and even to the toilet. Another group closely mirrors the first, except that instead of being addicted to work, this group is addicted to entertainment. We can see this type of smartphone user watching videos, playing games, and so on. Just like the workaholic who is able to carry work with them anywhere they go, entertainment addicts can take their entertainment anywhere they desire.
The smartphone as status symbol, and as a vehicle for addiction – these are two uses of the mobile phone that have a negative sheen to them. However, it is my view that we cannot do without smartphones today simply because with them, we can engage more with life away from them. Instead of having to sit down with pen and paper, or in front of a computer, people can now write essays on their phones. It is a good practice, for example, for students to train themselves to write essays quickly by giving themselves only an hour to write essays that are given as homework. Students, especially those who take an hour to get home from school, can simply spend an hour typing an essay out on the way home, and then print the essay for submission. Office workers, instead of having to rush to the office to send that last-minute email, can simply send it from wherever they are, saving the time they would have spent traveling.
Of course we can do without mobile phones in the sense that we can do without clothes or baths, but there is a danger that civilisation as we know it might just fall apart. In that sense, we cannot do without mobile phones and smartphones today. Our heroes these days are users of technology; our heroes are more like Iron Man (a great user of technology) than Hercules. Iron Man probably would not want to go without his smartphone, but let us also not forget that he used technology well — to save the world.
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