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Smart phones and the communication divide

Smart phones and the communication divide

Gulf News

Whether it is the CES in Las Vegas, the world’s biggest consumer electronics and technology trade show, CeBIT in Hanover, Europe’s most high-profile computer technology event, or Gitex, the Middle East’s own technology showcase, what creates the biggest excitement in such gatherings is the expectation of new products and technologies.

With touch screen and smart phone technology riding a new wave of innovation, the gizmo-crazy generation has had its fill at the just concluded Computer Shopper. Lured by Dh50 million worth of bundle offers and freebies, including ipads, tablets and tv sets, the crowds milled around the new venue of Gitex’s more popular component like a jamboree. Taking a cue from the massive turnout, Gitex has itself got smarter, with two editions in a year scheduled from next year.

Equipped with all the fancy stuff, a screen-savvy generation is talking and texting away to glory, often dangerously and flouting all norms of propriety and public safety, risking their own lives and of those around them. Is the communication frenzy really making us more understanding and friendly to each other?

A friend, who is a technology CEO, was lamenting the other day that the breath-taking sophistication in communication devices notwithstanding, people have stopped communicating to each other in the true sense of the term. Everyone seems to be in a mad rush no one knows for what. Though belonging to the not so old generation, this techie is deeply disappointed by the lack of communication among peers. He feels that in making a virtue of brevity, the new generation has stretched things a bit too far, in its bid to keep everything sweet and short. In fact, their exchanges can be broken down into a series of four letter words and a few emoticons, as if all the emotional contours of their personality can be bound within a certain square inches of their phone screens, which incidentally decide how good a phone is; or how smart is its carrier.

This is not just the case between two devices: it is a typical malaise that has afflicted every level of our society: between friends, within the family, among neighbours, and between communities and even countries. Grand children learning values of life through stories told by generations of grandmothers can now only form part of fairytales. Even parents have no time to spend with children, who are mostly brought up by maids and ayahs, who may not have themselves benefited from such traditions. With families becoming virtually nuclear in size and nature, there is constant threat of an implosion happening any time, destroying the soul of the family union, but keeping all its material dimensions intact, like it happens in the event of a nuclear conflict.

It might well be poetic justice that the two major forces that are aligned on the two sides of this great communication divide are themselves fighting a bitter war. In what would appear to be a completely farcical comedy, one day we have Apple winning billions in damages for patent infringement by rival Samsung and the next day the roles are reversed as the Korean giant claims violation of multiple numbers of patents by the US company and is granted equally substantial remedies.

Making issues appear even murkier, US courts rule in favour of Apple while Korean and Japanese courts uphold Samsung’s pleas. In the latest twist, however, a US Court of Appeals has overturned a US judge’s order blocking Samsung from selling its Galaxy Nexus smart phone pending a decision on Apple’s own lawsuit. With this, smart phone enthusiasts as well as their outsmarted generations are at their wits’ end trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong. Whatever be the legal status of the case, in the court of international public opinion sympathy is growing for Samsung as Apple made its first phone some 20 years after the Koreans went to the market with one.

Irrespective of which way the scale finally tilts, there is plenty to text about in the meantime.