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The next billion

The other night, while on the highway, I noticed some squatters under a flyover, heads bent down, faces lit up by little blobs of light. This sight set a stream of random thoughts rushing through my head - how could these people, with no roof over their head and no clue about their next meal afford to have these phones? Did they buy it from a store, a secondhand dealer or just get it somehow? Where do they charge their phones? How do they afford to pay for the recharge? Do they share these phones? Do they call anyone? Do they text? How do they learn to use the different features? Would it have been practical for them to use this money for some essentials instead? Most importantly, what do they do on these phones? Is it the usual stuff – videos, music and games?

Come to think of it, the phone could be their personal theatre, concert, video arcade, temple, getaway, encyclopedia, laptop… you name it.

In single room homes, inhabited by multiple people, I have seen each occupant snuggled into a designated space, a mobile device in hand, earphones plugged in, happily immersed in their private world. This virtually transports them to wherever they want to be, doing whatever they want to do. The world has literally stepped onto their palms without them actually having to step out.

Whether or not there is a roof over their heads or the assurance of the next meal, the phone is not just a prized possession but literally a parallel universe that they can immerse themselves into as per their will, independent of the reality of their day to day struggle on which they have little or no control.

Maybe this has pushed them to make the conscious decision and effort to invest their all into a single screen. This dim blob of light brightens up their life, giving them that ray of hope and happiness and helping them to get through the grim reality of today, while seeding the prospect of a better tomorrow.

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