Indispensable tool or trendy accessory? Ruwanthi
Herat Gunaratne and Randi Goonetilleke report on the mobile phone craze
Are cellular phones taking over the market? Latest figures from the Telecommunications
Regulatory Commission reveal that while the number of land phone subscribers
stood at 795,309 as at June 2001, cellular phone subscribers numbered 556,882.
Just take a look around you, in the bus or at a public place, be it
in a cinema or supermarket and the figures won't seem so surprising. For
everywhere you turn, there's someone with a mobile phone. If they were
originally touted as being indispensable to the busy businessman and young
executive, they are now owned by students, shop-keepers and trishaw drivers
For some, the cellular phone has become an added part of their anatomy.
It goes with them in the car, on the bus, to the grocery shop, to the restaurant
and in some extreme cases even to the bathroom!
But why are we so hooked on them?
Says the Head of Sales and Marketing at Dialog GSM, Mr. Nushad Perera,
"Next to your spectacles, the phone has become the most important utility
device. When the phones first hit the market - they were seen as a cosmetic
device; you'd most probably have seen phones propped up on tables at restaurants
for all the world to see. But now people simply purchase mobile phones
because they want to be in contact."
"Communication is such an important factor," explains Mr. Aubrey Fonseka,
General Manager at Metropolitan Communications Ltd., "and the cellular
phones make it all the more convenient, especially as a business tool."
But it isn't everyone who feels the need to be contactable every minute
of the day. There are many who feel that cellular phones are an intrusion
of their privacy. They see it as a public disturbance too, especially given
the musical rings and tendency to ring at the most inopportune moments.
Who hasn't heard cell phones ringing in the middle of concerts, at funerals
and in church too?
"Just knock off the phone, that's the advantage of a cellular phone.
You don't have that option with a landline. You are also able to screen
your calls and not answer them if you prefer not to. That's what has made
the cellular phone so popular," says Mr. Fonseka. However, as telecom companies
too have introduced CLI (Caller Line Identification) you really don't need
a cellular phone to do that kind of work for you, "but you cannot take
your landphone everywhere!" insists Mr. Fonseka.
With phones being available for even Rs. 3,500, cellular phone companies
are now targeting a new sector - the youth. "Lifestyles have changed considerably
during the past few years. Children now go out on a daily basis. The advantage
in kids having a cellular phone is that they can be in constant contact
with their parents, and nobody is likely to panic in case of an emergency,"
said Mr. Perera.
True, lifestyles may have changed and society is in turmoil but does
this mean that six and seven-year-olds need phones to be safe? "In a way,"
smiles Mr. Perera.
"Not so," said a mother of two who says emphatically that she does not
believe in giving children phones. "I know exactly where my children are
and have absolutely no need to be in touch with them during school hours.
And when I send them out, I always make sure that there's a responsible
adult around in case of an emergency. I myself don't have a phone and have
never felt the need for one. In my opinion it's just very simply another
cosmetic device and an excuse for irresponsible parents."
Some parents though find the phone a handy tool as was the case for
both Isuru (16) and Duminda (19), both students whose mothers bought them
phones since they wanted to keep a tab on their movements. In Isuru's case,
his mother meets the cost, but Duminda has to pay the bill out of his own
pocket. So while Isuru is more likely to exploit the phone, Duminda 'tries
to be careful, because it is MY money'.
At the end of the day though it all comes down to the fact that most
young adults want phones because, as Isuru puts it, "it's an accessory.
I love the fact that the phone is light, cute and hip." So have we reached
a situation where kids change their cellular phones as often as they change
their clothing? Different phone covers can be purchased in all the colours
of the rainbow.
But then, there are also those for whom the phone is a vital part of
their businesses. Said Ajith Wijemanne, who owns a printing press, "It
is very important for me to be contactable, since I'm not at my desk most
of the time. The phone has become indispensable to me, it's the first thing
I reach for on my way out."
Mum of two, Nita (50) who works as an Assistant Manager disagrees. "It's
an absolute waste of money," she says emphatically, pointing out that she
is either at home or at the office during the day and has landlines at
both places. "I'm contactable throughout the day. So why should I get a
cellular phone? I'm certainly not indispensable."
At the end of the day, cellular phones mean many things to many people.
They're either useful tools, menacing distractions, potential lifesavers
or status symbols. Take your pick.
Meanwhile, the debate over the health effects of mobile phones continues
with a recent World Health Organization statement issued in October 2001
stating that: "None of the recent reviews have concluded that exposure
to the radiofrequency (RF) fields from mobile phones or their base stations
causes any adverse health consequence. However, there are gaps in knowledge
that have been identified for future research to better assess health risks.
It will take about 3-4 years for the required RF research to be completed,
evaluated and to publish the final results of any health risks."
Cellular phone manufacturers have their marketing strategies mapped out
to keep pace with our ever-evolving technological world. New facilities
Wireless Application Protocol, a method of connecting mobile operators
to the Internet. With the W@P facilities available in Sri Lanka, one has
the opportunity to reserve hotel rooms, order food, transfer money and
check e-mail through your mobile phone.
Short Message Services gives mobile users the opportunity to exchange
short messages with fellow mobile phone users or even get cricket, horoscope,
news and trade updates on a mobile phone. (You can even get SMS in Sinhala.)
Tell us what you like…
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