The Daily Anachronism: Mobile Phones On The Go

So my deputy editor calls me to his desk and shows me a news feature that claimed Sri Lanka had surpassed its own population in the number of mobile phone subscriptions. I was assigned the task of finding out how these statistics were calculated, and exactly what this meant for the mobile operator market. I focused on the operator market over the actual phone market because what matters more in this context is how many people are actively using mobile phones. This conclusion can be drawn better from the subscriptions than physical phones.

First off I established who I was to call. Anusha Palpita, Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Director General, naturally was the first. Rohan Samarajiva of LIRNEasia was next as I had read up his work in the field. Speaking to Rohan helped me understand just how to angle the story and figure out what exactly I was looking for. He made it a point that I looked into the demand side of the data rather than the supply side. At first I didn’t understand what that meant either, but in context it makes sense.

Next was to get comments from mobile operators such as Mobitel and Dialog. While I was able to find contacts at Dialog thru Twitter, I had no such luck with Mobitel, even while knowing an employee personally. Two employees of Dialog were quite cooperative with giving me information on short notice. I got their perspectives on the emerging trends in the mobile operator market and what they think of the numbers. This helped flesh up the piece a bit.

Rohan’s comments helped add a more relate-able context to what would otherwise be a boring news feature. Here are a few excerpts:

“When I was young if you were to meet someone you would simply turn up and if no one is there you go back home. Now people call ahead. There is a marked cultural change in terms of coordination and even micro-coordination that seems to have pervaded society. Even a neighbour will be called up before visiting and people tend to even text their family members while being under the same roof,” Samarajiva said.

“One of the big negatives of the mobile phone culture is that face to face conversations tend to be interrupted by phone calls, be it at a religious place or in the midst of a deep conversation. Then there is the issue of driving or walking while on the phone. It is a distraction and if distractions are not handled carefully they will be dangerous to yourself and those around you. This is an issue that has to be worked around,” he said.

“There is also the inability of people in authority to regulate the behavior of those under them due to the mobile phone. Parents cannot control who their children talk to. An employer cannot control who their employees use their office provided mobile phone to talk to. The government incarcerates drug dealers to isolate them, yet today we see prisoners organizing crime over mobile phones,” he said.

I quite appreciate him taking the time to school me on the topic, even pointing me in the direction of Siddartha Mukherjee’s brilliant article on mobile phones causing cancer. This was another point my deputy editor wanted me to pick up on. I wasn’t sure if it would make the piece read disjointed as it strays a bit from the topic of numbers, but I suppose when numbers are so high cancer can be deemed a risk. Don’t worry, though, because Mukherjee quite convincingly proves otherwise here:

So that’s how the article came about. I started at 9AM and finished it by 1PM and was thoroughly satisfied with myself afterwards. I feel oddly happy this week, and it’s mostly because my articles have been working out. It’s been a while since I’ve delved deep into background and researching stories, and it’s what I miss from the Sunday Leader. Now though I’m starting to fill that place in by taking on stories that actually catch my interest, and not just those my editors assign me. The trick is to show them what you’re good at, and let them know what you’re into, and then prove that you’re good at it.

The article can be read on this .jpg:

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