Written by

Syed Saad Andaleeb, Professor & Former Vice Chancellor, BRAC University

Mahreen Mamoon, Assistant Professor, BRAC Business School, BRAC University

Today’s youth is information smart – they know what they want; if they don’t, they know where to look for it. What they do know best is to fit into the dynamic lifestyle that is constantly changing with the advent of technology.  Every move of theirs can be tracked; they too can track their environment with the help of a single, hand-held device: the cell-phone. The constant innovation and re-innovation of this device has made it such that the users, especially the youth, have come to become more dependent on cell phones.

Almost all imaginable work can now be done with the aid of an application in the cell phone. For food- Pathao Food, FoodPanda, HungryNaki; for transportation- Uber, Pathao, O-bhai, Chalo etc; for socialization- Facebook, Tinder, Twitter. For study, leisure, and every imaginable/doable thing, users check their cell phones first. The effect of this device has been so profound that people without a cell phone appear to exhibit high anxiety and poor performance.

A recent study among 140 undergraduate students of a business school showed that a majority of them own the top five global brands – Samsung owned by 29 students, Apple by 28 and 25 students own a Xiaomi. Interestingly, 23 students own a cell phone priced over Tk. 50,000 despite not having a steady income or any employment.  When asked what they look for from their cell phone, 13 main categories emerged from open ended responses, each having its own sub-categories. The main categories include:

  1. Appearance
  2. Ease of use
  3. Affordability
  4. Built-in applications
  5. Camera quality
  6. Applications
  7. Email-application
  8. Features
  9. Service Support
  10. Ease of Communication
  11. Social Media
  12. Internet browsing
  13. Durability

It was found that 65 of the 140 respondents chose camera quality as their most favorable feature on a cell phone.  This is a whopping 46.4% of the respondents. All other categories fell in a much lower range of responses.

The top five features that the youth of today look for in a smart phone are:

  1. Camera quality – 46.8%
  2. RAM – 7.2%
  3. Battery life – 7.2%
  4. Finger print – 4.3%
  5. Ease of communication – 3.6%

And the top five benefits of owning a cell phone include:

  1. Ease of Communication – 42.2%
  2. Ease of use – 28.1%
  3. Internet browsing – 8.2%
  4. Camera – 8.2%
  5. Applications 2.9%

An intriguing finding is the complete lack of social use of the cell phone among the youth. A device as powerful as the cell phone, it could be used much more for social purposes instead of its overwhelmingly hedonistic uses, i.e. self-indulgence mostly. This explains the near-50% dependence on the ‘camera’ feature of the phone. Better the camera quality or editing technology of a self-portrait – commonly known as a ‘selfie’ – to make oneself look attractive, better the social acceptance of an individual.  This is what many of our youth are immersed in today. They are in constant pursuit of looking their best on the social media like Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and so forth. In turn, the social media has managed to turn them into unsocial, self-obsessed, hedonistic individuals. 

For example, road accidents are innumerable today. Not very long ago, a student at a university suffered a serious brain injury in a public vehicle that overturned.  While some good Samaritans tried to save the student, they were turned away from several hospitals. For one thing, they had no information on which hospital had ICU facilities and which one had an available ICU bed to offer.  As a result, when they reached a hospital, they either learnt that it did not have an ICU or that the ICUs were full.  The frantic rush from one hospital to another may have been ultimately responsible for the loss of a precious life.

In this matter, perhaps, an app could be developed to show which hospitals have ICUs and available ICU beds.  Armed with this information, many lives could be saved. Then there is the matter of sexual harassment. A study showed that in Bangladesh, 94% of women (including university students) availing public transportation have experienced sexual harassment. The cell phone is yet to come to their rescue.  There are many other cause-related issues – the Rohingyas, the homeless, the ill-fed, those needing educational support, promotion of healthy practices, and much more.

The cell phone can play a vital role in engaging our youth to improve quality of life in our society; this is not reflected in the data. The youth of today can bring about a veritable social revolution via the cell phone if only they are better guided and motivated.  How they may be directed from fulfilling purely hedonistic needs to being more engaged with socially-directed causes using a powerful technology needs to be understood better.

There is much social presence of today’s youth in cell phones and related technologies. Their vibrant energy must be transformed into social good which can be inculcated in academia. Thus, class projects of relevant courses can come up with ways of involving students in social reform movements. There are motivational talks, TEDx talks, industry academia meets and much more that can also become more active in engaging the youth who must not feel left out; rather they must be taken aboard to address a variety of social issues that, even, concern themselves.  These young minds may come up with transformative ideas on such issues for a better future instead of contemplating how good their cell phone is at providing hedonistic pleasures!

Leave a Reply