Smart phones: status symbol and social divider

Posted by on December 9, 2016 in Articles, Stories

smartphone_gri

By Grigor Barseghyan

Bangladesh is a country located in South Asia with a population of 156 million people. The capital city of Bangladesh is Dhaka. From the city and around is where lots of workers come to Singapore. They are not the ones at the bottom of Bangladesh society, they are the people who are more or less able to fulfill their needs and wants compared to about 40 million Bangladeshis who are below the global poverty line. The relative wellbeing of those who come to Singapore can be deduced from the interviews I conduct with them on 3 September 2016.

All three men whom I interview — Husain Ripon, Arib, and Islam — are from Dhaka. Somewhat to my surprise, all of them own a smartphone where they have apps like “Whatsapp”, “IMO”, “Skype “and “Tango”. According to Husain, “90% of teenagers and youth own a smartphone.” Arib and Islam think that the figure is more like 80%.

Actually, these statements are far away from reality as my research has found that in Bangladesh only 5% of the population has a smartphone. This speaks of social stratification. The men I speak with are projecting their observations of their friends and social class onto the whole population. For example, when I ask about the number of their friends using smartphones, they respond that each of them has about 150 Bangladeshi friends using Facebook — which means they have 150 friends using smartphones.

Arib and Islam say that 10% are iPhone, and 90% are Samsung. However, Husain disagrees. Not all smartphones owned are top brands like Samsung or iPhone, he says. His opinion is that about 50% of phone users have Chinese phones like One Plus, Huawei, Xiaomi  and others.

Do you repair their phones when they fix out, or buy a new one? I ask them.

All three of them answer that if they have money to repair it, they repair it, but if they can afford to buy a new one, they buy a new one. In Singapore, very few people fix their phones when they are damaged. They just throw them away. In fact, the phones thrown away in Singapore are three times more expensive than the phones these three guys own. Two of them have a Samsung Z2 and the other one Samsung Note 1.

They also inform me that in Bangladesh, sometimes people buy used phones. They are attracted by the price. This point suggests that in Bangladesh, people are burning with desire for a phone, while also indicating the poorer economic state of the country.

But what do you use your smartphones for? I go further to ask.

First of all, they mention that it is very hard for them to buy data in Bangladesh as it is very expensive. The price of one gigabyte of date varies from telecom company to telecom company, but range from $7 to $10. However, wifi is available “more or less everywhere in the Dhaka.” This is quite hard to believe, but maybe they are referring just to the “everywhere” they go.

The main reason for using the internet is to communicate with friends. “IMO” and “Skype” are web call operators which give an opportunity to people to call their friends without paying any money. Even though the mobile credit for calls is very cheap — like five Singapore cents for a minute — they use the free app. Why spend any money when it can be entirely free?

The second reason for using the internet is scrolling through photos of friends and reading news on Facebook.

The last point is also very interesting. All three men insist that there is no Facebook in Bangla language, but according to Facebook.com, there is. It is probably trendy to use English on their smartphones. They seem not to have bothered to find out whether the same service is available in their own language.

My editor might have asked me to talk to the men about smartphones, but the conversation clearly reveals much more!

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