Social and Economic Changes with Mobile Phone Use in Pakistan

By Dr. Tahir Rauf

Smart Phones

Mobile phone subscribers are 131 million in Pakistan out of 170 million. Pakistan is ninth in top ten mobile phone users with annual growth of 13.3%. The mobile penetration rate amongst urban class people is almost 100%.  The recent award of 3G and 4G licenses to cellular service provider likely to be more deployment of the mobile technology.

Mobile services in Pakistan started in the late nineties during Musharraf’s regime. The government policies driven by vast privatization, catalyzed revolutionary changes in telecommunication which triggered a complex pattern of social changes and economic growth.

Today, the majority of people are connected to each other in everyday life. The cheap mobile phone from China are simple to use, brought vast network of communication in Pakistan from Himalayas to bay of Arabian shores. About 67% of the market is captured by cheap mobile phone, which cost less than $50. Imported American-made mobile phones are expensive, with incomprehensible built in features.

Did mobile phones makes life different to Pakistani people? Of course, it did. Acquiring a mobile phone propagates new individuality aroused by the new social order. Mobile communication is not about mobility but autonomy. It provides the owner the chance to be alone or with another person, at the same time to be in touch with people one might never see, across thousands of kilometer. People live in a networked individualism, connected to host of people all over the world.  At the same time, those people ignore their own physical next door neighbors. However, Pakistan’s decisions to adopt new standards of the globalized world, entangled people to spun web that has become most tempting. Diverse homogenized customs practices are slowly dissolving into national or international norms.

Poverty and lack of information are mutually interrelated. Deployment of mobile phone have a multi-dimensional positive impact on sustainable poverty reduction. It has raised positive aspects as the level of education, economic efficiency, social services, health, sense of security and effects on family and social cohesion.  The mobile phone is blessing in a busy life to keep in touch with family and friends while distances are huge, save time, and reduce traveling.

Mobile phones are not mere luxuries tool but rather essential tool that have improved earning capacity of farmers, fisher folk, rickshaw driver, street hawker, sweeper and doobis. Mobile phone is source of employment in creating jobs for vendors, security guard, engineers, franchise offices, and executives. Many of the occupation require mobile devices, such as repairman, technicians, electricians, sales people, builders, realtors, and airline or train-bus reservations offices.

Microsoft offers a dozen smart phone applications for the medical people to diagnose patients from distance. It enables healthcare workers to transfer data to specialist in distance centers.

Mobile devices deepen the changes that an average citizen can informally communicate with a high ranking politicians or journalists on twitter, – or email to express his or her point of view.  It has become a practical way a government interact with its citizens or offers a greater potential to connect people regularly to state institutions. It is new form of bottom up expression of freedom in a Pakistan.

The mobile phone has provided access to global flows of knowledge, altered cultural practices, mobilized social and political moments, and challenged gender relationships. Many gender relationship grew through mobile phones chatting or texting, shows a global norm while many elders consider it corrupting influence of the West. These changes in a broader context called Pakistani neoliberalism, characterized by accelerated consumerism with full scale participation in the global economy.

Pakistan has built up a huge network of communication and mass forums of text-messages of “GupShup” (gossip). The country that speaks more than five different regional languages and many more sub-dialects are translated distinctively into different texting scripts. Young people grew up writing or speaking unwritten languages on social media platforms, use Roman alphabet characters inconsistently in informal text of SMS in their mother tongue. Urdu words are normalized in non-native Roman script (Romanizing); such as “dusrao (other people), “Khush” (happy), “Karam” (grace) and “Konsa” (which) and then text acronym or slangs used in the West such as “lol” (laughing out loud) are mixed up in Pakistani SMS messaging; often disparage death of a good grammar, and possible danger to the standards of literary esteem of a language.

Overwhelming growth of cellular use overshadow the health hazards from air pollutions and radiation emitted from cell phones, and towers. Four-fifth of Lahore and Karachi population lives in unsafe zones. Transmitting electromagnetic radiation is like a slow poison and may develop a high risk of cancer. The huge increase in air pollution and overall carbon footprints resulting from diesel-powered mobile phone towers have become a major concern. However, the government feels no apprehensions to these issues that may be responsibility of next government or for winning next election strategy.

New generation of mobile users seem to be so obsessed with using their mobile phones even at places where usage is prohibited such as in planes, hospitals and petrol stations, while driving automobiles use their phones without any fear of being punished.

Electronic games on mobile phones are so common that poor people can afford its cost. Individuals and organizations are offering for ways to make technology serving people’s needs, such as paying bill through mobile phone.

Unfortunately, the country that participate with global information highway has to block mobile phone services on Eid festivals, or Shia processions because mobile phones are used to trigger explosive devices to thwart possible terror attacks. Government often have to shut-off cellerual services for security during rally against government of thousands of protesters. Pervez Musharraf whose regime invented the wheels of mobile technologies in the country, was escaped from assassination attempts as bomb went off through phone devices. The technologies that monitored phone calls, found the world’s most wanted man through a mobile phone track, led the U.S. pursuers at the doorstep of Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad. Naive use of technology is sometime dangerous.

Tahir Rauf is a freelance writer and works in the University of Rochester, New York.

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