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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Opinion | Lessons offered by the millennial love of smartphones

Opinion | Lessons offered by the millennial love of smartphones

The smartest generation in history has embraced these gadgets in ways that others ought to learn

Millennials use their phones for everything, from browsing the internet to calling a cab, from transferring money to watching a movie (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)Premium
Millennials use their phones for everything, from browsing the internet to calling a cab, from transferring money to watching a movie (Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Millennials are voting with their wallets and, in the process, many a product is feeling the heat. Fast fashion, for instance, is the latest such category to be shunned, as evident from the bankruptcy of once-hot retail brand Forever 21. Cars, too, aren’t quite their thing, though some contest that conclusion. They are also increasingly choosing gemstones like opal and amethyst over diamonds for wedding rings, and demand for the latter has dipped. Nothing, it would appear, is forever when it comes to this demographic cohort.

Hang on, though. Indian millennials can’t seem to stop buying smartphones. Look at pictures of the queues to buy the iPhone 11. And it isn’t just the lure of the world’s best-known brand. According to a fresh report from research firm TechARC, the festive sales of major e-tailers such as Amazon and Flipkart are expected to result in 6 million Indians upgrading handsets this season.

What explains this sustained love affair? Millennials, the first generation to grow up with smartphones, are faster at adopting and using new technologies. The device has become the vehicle of all communication, as well as the preferred mode of transaction. They use their phones for everything, from browsing the net to calling a cab, from transferring money to watching a movie.

A ride on the Metro in Delhi presents an all-too-familiar sight: people hunched over their phones, furiously scribbling or reading mails and messages. While it isn’t a phenomenon limited to these trains, you don’t see the same zeal on buses. Perhaps the very configuration of the subway system, one moment burrowing through the bowels of the earth, the next emerging high above city streets, lends itself to the kind of intimacy that has driven the cell phone revolution.

Calls are fewer, though the large number of ears sporting ugly protuberances would suggest much music is being consumed. In the lazier hours of the day, when traffic is sparse and ample seating is available on Metro trains, phones turn into viewing screens for recorded cricket games and TV soaps, as well as latest Bollywood blockbusters. But the fingers stay active, as messages, posts and mails fly back and forth.

Even if the train is over-ground, all one can see outside are T.S. Eliot’s Prufrockian “streets that follow like a tedious argument of insidious intent". The squalor of the capital is best avoided. Passengers only look out when a station approaches, checking out name plates as a Pavlovian response.

Phones still have the undivided attention of most, though a few hardy souls are seen making an effort to peruse the morning papers. The young smile, grimace, swear, depending on the content on their screens.

This then is the smartphone generation, or at least a major chunk of that 468 million strong owners’ club, growing at a compounded annual growth rate of 12.9%, according to an Assocham-PwC joint study. Together, they have catapulted India to the front lines of the global telecom battle, with handset makers from across the world rushing to grab the next 400 million smartphone buyers, expected to emerge over the next three years, in what is already the world’s second-largest market.

What helps these Metro users is that signal strength in general is good across the 140 stations on the Delhi Metro network. Though, in this, the newer Bengaluru Metro, which has advanced split antenna technology to eliminate call drops in tunnels over a 300m stretch, may be ahead of the curve. The relative comfort of sealed coaches also induces a degree of stoicism. Eventually, the most stubborn of messages goes through.

As telecom meets transportation, an entirely new pattern of life has emerged, one centred around the phone. Social scientists have called the device a kind of third leg or eye for human beings, an additional limb that adds so many dimensions to our capabilities that we have almost lost the ability to function without it. Many surveys now reveal that for the millennial generation, the loss of a phone is one of the most catastrophic events in life. In one such poll last year by Tappable, a UK-based mobile app development agency, millennials said they would rather sacrifice activities like drinking, travelling and even sex than give up their phones. It even gave rise to a term, “nomophobia", the fear of being without a smartphone.

Almost inevitably, the British tabloid The Sun reported in June that professors at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia, had seen an increasing number of young people with bony growths at the bottom of their skulls, a result of extreme cellphone usage. Lacking in any evidence, the study was debunked by serious news outlets. But it revealed how the millennial usage of smartphones had been demonized.

The fact is, the smartphone is one of the greatest technological innovations of our times. Indeed, some years ago, researchers at Vanderbilt University, US, used many of the components inside a smartphone to create bionic limbs—in particular, the Vanderbilt leg—that would give amputees a more natural gait. The scientists used much of the technology incorporated in smartphones, including powerful mobile processors and a suite of motion sensors, to power the prosthetic contraptions.

The smartphone is a culmination of great advances in several different strands of technology, and members of the smartest generation in history have effortlessly incorporated it into their lives. We should learn from them, not lampoon them for it.

Sundeep Khanna is a former executive editor of Mint

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Published: 02 Oct 2019, 03:15 PM IST
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