The madness of mobile phones! by Lateef Adewole

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A lady making a phone call Nigeria spying on citizens

The Insight by Lateef Adewole

Last week, I watched a muted video clip that narrated some possible negative impacts of the use of mobile phone by children. The video started by showing a man with two children, an older teenage girl and a far younger boy. The two are very fond of each other and their father, with the elder sister always supporting and assisting her brother in his study while she does her own too. At the end of the term, they both excelled in flying colours in their exams. This made their father very happy.

To appreciate the teenage girl, he gifted her a new mobile phone. And everything changed! The young girl became attached to her new phone, always pressing it. She began to pay less attention or none at all, to her little brother. Likewise, she didn’t have time to help her younger brother with school work any longer and she neglected her own too. The love and harmonious home they once enjoyed as one family gradually disappeared.

Expectedly, she flunked her exams at the end of that term, so did her brother. Both of them were sad to show their father their results, who also became sad. The following day, realising her mistake, the girl returned the mobile phone back to her father and their lives returned to normal, full of physical relationship, love and happiness.

I watched this with my kids and my wife’s grown-up teenage niece. And we had a debate about it. She insisted that the video did not portray the true situation of things. She claimed that not all kids waste time on their mobile phones but that many use them to better themselves in numerous ways including; studying for their school works, learning through researches, becoming current in the global affairs, social relationships and lot more.

The one that was of particular interest and concern to me was her revelation that many teenagers are suffering from frustration and depression, unknown to their parents. And that it is usually because these teenagers do face issues secretly and believe they can handle them on their own. But when it overwhelms them, they become depressed and sometimes have suicidal thoughts. That was worrisome.

I had planned to write this article for about two years but trending events which I often write about never allowed me to do so. It was based on my observations of how most people (including me) have all become so attached to their mobile phones. It now seems our lives depend on it completely. Like me, I can hardly be separated from all my phones for long. In fact, some people sleep and wake up with theirs. Some will nearly run mad if they lose their phones.

The problem is not entirely about the abnormal attachment to our mobile phones or the excessive time we spend on them making calls, browsing the internet, playing games on them or chatting on different social media platforms (and they are many), but the quality of the things we spend that time on and their values to our lives.

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This article could never be about whether the presence of mobile phones in our lives is good or not, because, the evidence to support its merits are overwhelming and hardly debatable, especially to us in Nigeria and Africa. Its impacts in our lives have been nothing but revolutionary. Many times, I wondered how we lived and survived in those years past. The younger generation (the millennials) can never understood what I am saying. It will be incomprehensible to them.

This is because, what mobile phones do for us now were herculean tasks just few decades ago. In all aspects of our lives, the usefulness of mobile phones cannot be overemphasised. From as ordinary as setting alarms to wake us up in the morning from sleep, to scheduling our daily activities. It serves as clock, calculator, diary, dictionary, Quran and Bible, and many thing one can think of could be done using our mobile phones.

What about our business and employment lives? It changed everything. Now, the world is in our palms and it is now accessible to all and sundry. Little children and old people alike. The physical gap that hitherto existed among us have become extremely shortened if not closed. With a mobile phone, anybody could be reached on phone anywhere in the world at anytime. The video calls and now multimedia video conferencing capacity capped it. Businesses were birthed by the availability of mobile phones. Life got better.

The challenges of Covid-19 brought out many great uses of phones. Schools were conducting classes online, meetings, conferences, webinars and all, were made possible online with mobile phones. The current stage where everything can now be remotely controlled from anywhere is awesome. And it is still the beginning. These are the lives the teenagers have only known.

Just imagine having to travel many hundreds of kilometres from one location to visit or meet another person without being sure whether they were around or not. It was like blind trip. When we wanted to reach other people in far locations, we would write letters through the post office. This will take many days or weeks to be received, depending on the location of the recipient. Then, we have to also wait for days or weeks to get our replies if we were fortunate that our letters got to the recipient.

How then can millennials comprehend our “past” lives where banking was like rocket science. Then, all banking operations were manual with cashiers handwriting individual’s account balance on each person’s account booklet, after he or she must have recorded it on the bank’s ledger as well. Without these two corresponding documents, no financial transaction was possible.

Or, a situation where you can only collect money from the bank and the bank’s branch where your account was domiciled, even if there are two branches of the same bank besides each other. So, if you are in Owerri and you have account in Kano, you will have to get back to Owerri before you can collect your money. These are just a few examples of how hard life was in those days. These were barely three decades ago.

All the revolutionary changes that we now experienced in our lives in Nigeria in particular, were made possible with the coming of the Global System of Mobile (GSM) communication. Before then, we only had fixed wired communication lines provided by the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), which came to being in 1985, from the merger two agencies of the FG providing different related services; Post and Telecommunications (P&T) in the Ministry of Communications and Nigerian External Telecommunications (NET).

Up to the 1990’s, the total avaliable landlines to about 100 million Nigerians was far less than a million. Only the elites, averagely rich and middle classes had telephone lines. When I was serving, I had to travel from the village I served (Ikot Ntung), along Eket-Oron road to Eket, every weekend, just to receive phone calls from my friends in Lagos, who were applying for jobs on my behalf. Now imagine an aptitude test or interview scheduled within the week. It was an incredible experience.

Therefore, when the former President Obasanjo finally actualised our dream for the GSM in 2001 with just two telecommunications operators; MTN and Econet (from where Airtel was born after series of transitions), it was like magic. Since then, the sector has exploded (literally). From NCC database, as at Q1 of 2020, Nigeria is the country with the highest number of mobile phones subscribers in Africa with a total of 185.7 million users. The breakdown is MTN 70.7, Glo 51.7, Airtel 49.9, 9Mobile 13.1 and Visafone 0.138. All in millions. Likewise, the total number of internet users is 123.8 million. MTN 55.5, Airtel 35.5, Glo 29.2 and 9Mobile 8 million. How can we compare the current figures with less than a million less than three decades ago? It is unbelievable.

With this, mobile phones are in every nook and cranny of the country. This has also become our undoing due to the addictions. Like the common saying that excess of everything is bad. That is our fate now. Kids, teenagers, adults and all of us are guilty in various degrees.

You see people walking on the roads and pressing their phones at the same time and even plug the earpiece in their ears, thereby losing concentration. This has led to many accidents and deaths, like that of a corps member in Abuja few years ago. She was carried away while pressing her phone, unknown to her that she had strayed to the expressway. She was knocked down by oncoming vehicle and died. Similar stories abound in other places.

Similarly, most people drive and use their phones to make calls by placing them on their ears with one hand while using the other hand to drive. Worse is typing and sending sms while on the wheel in motion. Such careless distractions have resulted in countless road accidents, causing serious injuries and many times, deaths, apart from the damages to the vehicle(s) and other properties.

People, especially the female folks often forget their cookings while pressing their phones. This has led to fire outbreaks from the kitchens many times. I once read of a woman who forgot her child (a baby) at the departure hall of an airport while pressing her phone. She simply picked her bags and boarded her flight on announcement. She only remembered after the plane was airborne after some minutes. We have heard of similarly weird stories from many places. And all of us have had one or more of such moments.

For the kids, teenagers and younger adults, the situation is currently scary. Like my wife’s niece highlighted, there are numerous benefits of the mobile phones to them but like I also challenged her, how many of these categories of people use the phones beneficially most of the time?

A closer observation will reveal that many of them spend time on their phones for frivolities. Rather than use them for researches to enhance their studies and lives, they are busy with inanities. Watching films, listening to songs, visiting different social media sites, idle chatting with their friends, and the likes, take a chunk of their time. All these constitute serious distractions to them from their studies, with the attendant poor academic performances for the students.

Through the uncontrolled use of mobile phones by kids, they are over exposed to so much negative world in the process. A recent Whatsapp message I read narrated how a woman discovered that her child belongs to a group on Whatsapp where x-rated contents like blue films, nude pictures, errotic videos and so on are shared by members. They post on the platform for the pleasure of all members.

Likewise, secret cult initiations do occur through such unhindered access to internet by many naive and innocent children.

Addiction to mobile phones through excessive use could make them feel that they are connecting with many people but that is just virtual friendships and relationships without emotional love and care. This could actually result in emotional distancing from other members of their family, which could cause loneliness and degenerate to depression if not quickly discovered and checked. Some can lead to suicides. The health implications of sleepless nights due to long hours on the phones is another issue.

Addiction to mobile phones usage have destroyed families and friendships. Imagine family members sitting down together in a space but each is busy with their mobile phones. They are so close but so far apart. How can proper bond exists among them?

As elaborately discussed earlier in the article, the place of mobile phones in our lives have almost become irreplaceable but we must never let it get to the stage where they replace human beings to us. No matter how much we love and enjoy the companionship of our phones, they can never give the happiness of real human love and care.

Likewise, while adults need to be disciplined in their use of phones to show examples of being responsible to the younger ones and the kids, they should also monitor, regulate and control what their children do with their phones.

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

Lateef Adewole is a political analyst and social commentator can be reached by email [email protected] or via WhatsApp +2348020989095 and @lateef_adewole on Twitter