How advances in communication have changed us all


I have a friend who replaces and upgrades his smart phone every time that a new model is launched, which on average these days could be between 15 and 18 months. He remains faithful to his favourite brand and hasn’t changed since they started producing them. I also have other friends who are tech nerds and would change to what’s the best available and whichever maker has come out with the latest and most advanced technology in smart phone capabilities.

With their most advanced device they can do everything on it – they communicate by texting, chatting, video-calling, make videos as well as watch news, movies listen to music and even read books. They can perform online banking services and buy stuff from food to fashion and other items too numerous to name. They can make travel plans, buy air tickets and book their hotel lodgings. I heard that someone had even sent a text message to divorce his wife!

The amazing thing is that the device they use costs virtually nothing – from a lowly price of around RM350 to a high end unit of RM4000+, they can use the same device to conduct all the services that I had listed…and more!

These friends of mine whose lives revolve around their gadgets and devices are what we used in the 60s and 70s to call ‘followers of fashion’ which in our days had meant those who would wear and use the  latest and most trendy men’s or women’s wear and other paraphernalia. But today they are considered a necessary ‘evil’, if you’re not into such high-end gadgets of mass communication.

It has become so commonplace that most young lives these days revolve around the smart phone. Other than the need to work for a living and to eat and sleep, the majority waking part of their lives are tied to what stares them back on that small brightly lit blue screen in the palm of their hands. Without it, they are literally lost.

Oh yes – I forgot that we also need it for Google maps and Waze for directions to destinations and places we need to go as well as to order for cabs on Grab !

But let me just pause for a moment here.

I still remember when I was about ten years old in 1960. There were only three ways to communicate then – firstly to use the landline telephone (a most bulky heavy and boxy thingy consisting of a gym-like dumb bell shaped handset and a odd shaped placement unit for it to be laid on).

Secondly I could write – a letter, a telegram if it’s urgent, or hand-delivered note if one can afford a peon or office boy.

Lastly by going in person to the home or office of the person I wished to contact.

My only means of listening to the news and to catch my favourite songs and listen to stories by famous writers was by radio. There were Radio Sarawak and BBC news for world affairs. Teen programmes were few and sparse, usually on weekends, and request programmes were very popular. I would listen to the exploits of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson on BBC late at night, by weekly or nightly serialisation.

Newspapers, periodicals, specialist magazines and books were only available at a few handful of newsstands, bookstores and we had the sole British Council Library to speak of. Most of the time popular writers’ books were only available if one booked them and it took weeks, sometimes months before we can get to read them. Newspapers from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur were always a day late and the local dailies did not carry much local news except for bulletins from the Department of Information and other news agencies. Local investigative reporting was virtually non-existent. Regular columns meant gardening tips, entertainment news and social tidbits reporting of government sponsored soirees and high society goings-ons.  In those days no one had yet coined the phrase ‘fake news’ because there weren’t any.

When I wanted to listen to my favourite record or song, I had to wait for it to be played over Radio Sarawak by request on a Friday or Saturday; the mass produced and consumer-price-friendly tape-recorders were only widely available from 1966 onwards. Watching movies meant paying $1.50 or more for first run feature movies (severely censored!) at a handful of cinemas in town, or 30/50 cents at morning shows on weekends for re-runs. Sometimes the show-reels would either jam, leading to a frame being ‘burnt out’ or if the same film were showing at another cinema, we had to wait for the second reel to arrive to continue watching the feature!  Such was our childhood life, full of unexpected surprises, but fun nonetheless in retrospect.

Today everything has changed.

I read on social media the other day about this Chinese youth who had sold one of his kidneys in order to buy a top-end smart phone he had desired – he’s now in dire straits health wise. I also watched with amusement a video clip of a couple of young kids figuring how to operate a land-line telephone set! Perhaps I shouldn’t laugh at them as there are seniors today who are still figuring out how to manage the apps on their devices and needing assistance from their grandchildren!

One of the greatest wonders of the modern world, to me at least, is the fact that we are now on a daily basis using a device, as light as a pack of playing cards, the size of a men’s wallet, which does not cost us an arm and a leg – something which has replaced all of the following regular everyday items (23 at last count!) that we use :

The telephone, fax machine, desktop PC, SLR camera, record player, tape recorder, DVD recorder/player, iPod, video camera, printer (capable),books,magazines,newspapers,compass,diary,watch,thermometer,guide map – as well as, but still highly debatable – capable of being your own personal doctor, teacher, physician, psychiatrist and sex worker!

The future is here – and it is the smart phone. We should be smart enough to use it to our advantage and not let it take control of our lives.