A few days back, Reliance Jio announced that it would charge its customers for outgoing calls made to rival networks at 6 paise per minute to recover the Interconnect Usage Charge (IUC). IUC refers to the fee that a mobile operator has to pay for connecting calls from its network to outside networks.
This news item got me into thinking how we as consumers have become dependent on technology and how an announcement as small as IUC charge can impact our lives.
The biggest impact of the IUC charge could be on the phenomenon called ‘missed calls’. My domestic help, like most of them, usually gives me a missed call from her mobile, and I call her back so that she doesn’t have to pay for the call. If all telecom operators start levying this IUC charge, then the domestic help would get charged even for giving a missed call. What will happen? They will have yet another excuse that they did not have enough balance or money to be able to even give a missed call, so they took a leave without informing in advance. I know, I know, this example may seem trivial or perhaps funny. However, it is a fact of our lives.
I belong to the generation that has seen both – the pre-Internet/ computers/ mobiles and post-Internet/ computers/ mobiles eras. When I was a kid, there used to be one landline phone for the entire household. And, when it used to ring… everybody used to be eager to answer it. This was especially true for teenagers who had friends of the opposite sex calling or more importantly their boyfriends/ girlfriends calling. Now, things have become so different that every individual has a mobile phone of his own. Earlier, one had to first talk to the person answering the phone to reach the desired person, but now one can talk directly to the desired person several times. In fact, there are several options to communicate like text messages, voice messages, video calls, etc. And, what has happened to the dear old landline phones? Many people do not have one at their homes and even if they do, the poor thing keeps ringing and everybody keeps exchanging glances to answer it. What a 180-degree turn!
A few decades back, to make an ISD call was a luxury. People used to book calls at a booth and talk at the top of their voice to be able to communicate with their loved ones for a few minutes. Now, it is free of charge and readily possible through mobile phones. In fact, options like video chatting make people feel closer even though they may be sitting thousands of miles away from each other.
With the advent of technology, one thing that I miss is the letters. Maybe I am from the old school, but the charm of letters cannot be replaced by emails. The latter has surely made our lives much easier, but the personal touch is missing. Having said this, I myself cannot possibly live without emails now. They have become so essential for doing business that I can forgo the charm of handwritten letters.
Another major change, courtesy technology, is the advent of mobile cameras. A couple of decades back, clicking a picture was special. The camera roll had an option of 32 or 36 pictures and we used them only for special occasions. But now, every moment of our lives is captured as an image. In fact, it is not uncommon to have hundreds of pictures for a party.
Mobile cameras have also given rise to the phenomenon of citizen journalism. People quickly capture beautiful moments or crimes from their mobile phones and make them public. This was unthinkable a couple of decades back.
Apart from communication, the biggest change is seen in the area of shopping. e-commerce portals have made our lives so easy. Nowadays, we can get everything delivered at our doorstep at a nominal charge without the hassle of having to venture out in traffic.
The dynamics of parenting have also changed drastically. On one hand, mobile phones help parents keep in touch with their kids even if they are miles away, on the other, they have also become a big challenge for parents who would like to keep an eye on their kids’ activities and friends. The Internet and mobile devices have even given rise to issues like cyberbullying that was unthinkable till two decades back.
I can go on and on about many other ways that technology has changed our lives and lifestyle. The way we eat, the way we shop, the way we learn, the way we do business, the way we communicate, the way we socialise… everything has undergone a gigantic change.
Given the far-reaching influence of technology, it is but obvious that any developments in this area would have an impact on its consumers. As I mentioned earlier, something as small as the news about IUC got me into thinking that there are so many things that I am used to now and I take for granted. What if they all become chargeable? I will not be able to give them up especially after having experienced them.
I remember a decade back my mobile operator had started giving me free SMS alerts about people who called me but could not reach me. I didn’t need this, but when I started using it, I got used to it. Gradually, the mobile operator started charging me Rs. 15 a month for the service. I subscribed to it because it was a very small amount. Now, I pay Rs. 30 for the same service. It is still a small amount, but even if this amount is increased to Rs. 100, I would be willing to pay.
The point I am making is technology tapped into my ‘latent need’, a need that I didn’t know I had, gave me a taste of it that I loved, and now I am hooked to it. If it takes away even one service away from me or charges me an exorbitant price for it, I will be left helpless and with only one choice – to pay for it.
The IUC charge is a very small example of this, but representative of the way our lives are dependent on technology and the decision-makers in the domain. I am sure the government and other decision-makers would always have our interests in mind while framing policies, but the fact of the matter is we will accept whatever is decided at whatever price because now this has become our way of life. What’s interesting is that the young generation would not even know what to do without technology. They have never known a life without it. Our latent need that was a ‘luxury’ has now become our ‘basic need’. Surely, we are dependent on technology in more ways than one. Above all, technology has forever changed the world we live in.