When smart screens take over
In the last six months, most of my extended family, including septuagenarian aunts and uncles, have got on to WhatsApp. These WhatsApp newbies share celebratory videos of every festival on the Indian calendar with zest. They also send me virtual darshan (viewings) of aarti (prayers) at the biggest and most popular temples across India.
Meanwhile, my sister has progressed to only video calling with her Jio phone. And my nephew has become a financial video blogger or vlogger.
India’s mobile data usage per subscriber has risen over 20-fold in the last five years on the back of the launch of 3G- 4G services—and in particular, the rollout of free services by Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd in September 2016.
The data usage per Jio subscriber was 4-5 times higher than the industry average of 1.25 Gigabyte (GB) during the free services period, according to a 25 July Crisil Ltd report. Most of this consumption was led by video for communication and entertainment.
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd is now betting on this increased video consumption in the 500-million feature phone market.
Its launch of a new 4G-capable JioPhone with unlimited data and optional TV streaming will probably see a lot many more people with their heads buried in their phones for longer periods than ever before.
Indians with smartphones on average spend 28 hours a week on the mobile, compared with four hours on TV and two hours reading print publications and books, according to the Internet Trends 2017 report by Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (bit.ly/2vlrNT8).
To be sure, not everyone is at ease today with this mobile-first way of life. Way back in 2010, around the time of the iPad’s launch, Steve Jobs said in an interview with The New York Times journalist Nick Bolton that the use of technology was limited for his children at home (nyti.ms/2jMSoD9).
Bolton found this to be a common practice in the households of most chief executives and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley. The reason, he said, was that these executives wanted to shield their children from harmful content, online bullying and, worst of all, addiction to the devices which they had experienced firsthand.
Digital dependence and compulsive smartphone usage is higher in India than the global average. A staggering 92.4% of Indian consumers keep their smartphone in direct reach all the time, and more than a quarter keep it on their body all the time, even at night. This is higher than the global average of 85%, according to the B2X Smartphone and IoT Consumer Trends 2017 report. IoT is short for the Internet of Things.
Psychologist Adam Alter, in a TED Talk, noted that the smartphones had taken over 90% of our free time or personal time—the time that we used once to pursue hobbies, cultivate relationships and think about our lives (bit.ly/2woA0Tr). Now, given the easy access to everything on our phones, a large part of the free time is spent on apps for dating, social networking, gaming, entertainment, news, web browsing—activities that don’t exactly contribute towards making us happy.
Alter points to the bottomless nature of everything in the internet world where Facebook, Instagram, Netflix, and news and text messaging is never-ending. This is different from the 20th century where everything from newspapers to magazines and television shows had stopping cues. These cues allowed people to move on.
But then that was an era when heads down meant being focused and directing all our energy to completing the task at hand. Different from today where we skim through our real lives in favour of our smart screens.
Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.