Youth and the Smart Phone
By Sahaya G. Selvam
As late as in the 1990’s, it was a common phenomenon to see people queuing up to use of the fixed telephone booths along the streets of the Nairobi Central Business District.
One had to negotiate a set of rituals before they could get to speak to friend or family on the other end of the line: picking the handset, waiting for the tone, dialling the number, waiting for the connection, dropping the coin in time, and sometimes repeating it all-over again until your call went through. This was often accompanied by another set of frustrations: the coin getting ‘swallowed’ despite your unsuccessful call; after waiting in the queue for so long you find no one picking up your call on the other end; and sometimes when the conversation became long distracting knocks on the booth by others on the queue waiting to make their calls.
Hardly a decade later, in the first decade of the 21st century, the bill-boards in Nairobi have shifted from themes such as HIV-prevention, soaps and cosmetics, to mobile-phone accessories and their service providers. People were seen parading their near-brick-sized mobile phones on the streets while precariously hiding them from the potential thugs who loomed around some locations in Nairobi. The communication-revolution had set in even in Sub-Saharan Africa.
As we live through the second decade of the 21st century, almost every person of age carries a phone – often a smart one. The mobile phone has almost become part of our dressing. Africa had leap-frogged the development pathway – from widespread lack of fixed landlines, to almost everyone having a phone on their own. Reports suggest that the number of SIM cards active currently is over 96% of the population of Kenya. This is far more than the African average.
The advent of smart phones has hiked up so many possibilities: economy around mobile-money transfers, teaching and learning, access to entertainment, socialisation, and the like. Talking is the least service that one could have access to on the smart phone. For smarter users of a mobile-device, it is their office on the move: catching up with business and relationships.
These possibilities also come with challenges. For some young people who want to be trendy, the phone is often a show-off and superfluous. Together with all the positive possibilities, it offers temptations for pitfalls in social etiquette and moral behaviour. The second part of this article offers some practical guidelines on the mature use of the contemporary phones.
- Don’t become phone-absorbed: You walk into a waiting room; everyone is just absorbed in their phones. It is the modern-day toy – and even adults and older people physically play with it, to pass time. Reaching out to your phone could be a defence mechanism to handle the embarrassment of being amidst strangers. This maladaptive behaviour could deprive you of getting into meaningful conversations with people around. The modern youth are so glued to their handsets that they do not look up to recognise people around.
- Don’t say or show something over the phone that you would not do face to face. Being on a call or a chat, even a video-chat creates a false sense of anonymity. People take risks in exposing themselves too much: in words and in images. Remember, whatever you have sent as an image could be saved and used later for the wrong purposes, including for defaming or blackmailing you.
- Be aware of the acceleration of the growth in bonding. It is not uncommon to hear from young people that a particular relationship that they now want to break up had developed so fast even before they realised what was happening. This is the effect of the mobile phone. The bonding that traditionally took months to develop today happens in days. Then people take risks and end up being hurt. So, ask yourself at every conversation, do you really want to go this way? Are you in a position to handle it?
- Follow some basic social etiquette in phone-use. Give yourself and others a break from phone. It is not a good idea at all to carry your phone to the family-meal. In other situations, avoid impolite behaviour such as walking out of meetings to attend phone calls, talking too loud on the phone while in the company of others, playing a video in a quiet place without an earphone, picking up a call while on duty dealing with clients. Sometimes the phone-use is dangerous particularly when you try to multitask while: crossing the road, leading a young child, offering medical care to someone. The list could be endless.
- Protect yourself against frauds and blackmailing. Is someone trying to cheat you or to blackmail you over the phone or about something you had sent on the phone. Seek help. Speak to someone – your parents, for instance. If you are below the age of 18, you should involve your parents. Don’t undo a wrong with another wrong.
- Carry your conscience with your phone. Whether you are alone on your phone or in the company of your parents or other, behave consistently. Ask yourself: is it morally right? I’m building an immoral or an unhealthy habit? Would I be proud of what I do and say on the phone even in the presence of my parents and elders?
- Phone could also be used for prayer: Have you downloaded a digital Bible on your phone? How many of your apps are of spiritual nature? There is a galore of possibilities. My favourites are: Sacred Space – a website and an app that takes you through six steps in prayer following the Ignatian spirituality. It is unique for every day. Universalis is another useful app that brings together the breviary (prayer of the church to be prayed at different hours of the day), the lectionary (liturgical readings of day), and the missal (mass prayers).
So, use the phone, tainted as it might be, to grow spiritually!