TODAY -

Impact of Covid-19 on mobile phone users among youths in Manipur

Rajendra Kshetri & Achom Roshan Kumar *



Nowhere to go with social, religious and any kind of gathering at public places, offices, parks, gyms, theatres, swimming pools, cafes a remote possibility during this ongoing period of COVID 19 lockdown, almost everyone with the exception of the frontline COVID warriors and volunteers, are equipped with a Smartphone/Mobile phone often with earpieces, microphone and other mobile accessories such as the mobile charger, power bank etc, the main purpose of which is to pass away idle time.

This is more or less true in general for all ages, sexes, communities, religions and professions yet the above features are more frequently and regularly characteristic of the younger generation and the student community in particular. It may not be an exaggeration to say that the student community is now hand in glove with their mobile phone.

Recapturing the events of the past few months leading to the present series of lockdowns and curfews, one can say that COVID -19 began to hit the entire world since early 2020. In response to this global pandemic, the Government of India had chosen to put the whole country under total lockdown for an initial phase of 15 days beginning March 24, 2020 in its effort to check the spread of the deadly disease.

The lockdown extended for another 15 days and thereafter in consultation with the respective state governments, necessary precautionary steps were taken up by the concerned states taking into account the local situations. The imposition of total lockdown and curfew has brought to a complete halt the everyday transactions and mundane activities of daily life.

Hence, much of these activities from official work to buying groceries and household items, meeting relatives to peer group interactions and socialising has to be carried out right from home. The mobile phone with its multi-functionality and innumerable Apps therefore, became the most appropriate and ultimate gadget for everyone, young and old, men and women to carry out their daily routine tasks while remaining at home. Indeed mobile phone turns out to be the right tool at the right time.

At this juncture, one of the most basic needs of human being of keeping in touch with fellow beings, friends, relatives, and colleagues, co-workers, meeting new acquaintances and making friends can only be fulfilled through mobile telephony and its vast network across the globe. The inevitability of mobile phone seemingly becomes more vivid and clear during this total lockdown.

Fighting the invisible common enemy of humanity from within the inescapable fort of one’s home, mobile phone becomes the most trusted arsenal that retrieve and share information of all kinds, news, latest data and figures, updates on the efforts of scientists of different countries in their hunt for a vaccine to neutralise the enemy. Videos, audios, music, short film clips, comedy, fun and entertainment of all kinds are also shared in hundreds of thousands of online forums and groups on social media platforms like facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Youtube,Tiktok etc.

Our young people take a leading role in uploading and sharing several important and socially beneficial information and knowledge regarding the present COVID-19 situation. Information ranging from how one can increase immunity to protect oneself from the virus to various safety measures, the Dos and Don’ts are also shared on several platforms. On the other hand, in their haste and urgency to share information, they sometimes upload contents without verification thereby circulating fake news and rumours.

Out there in the cyber jungle, there are many rumour mongers and sinister designs that would make and upload hate videos and speech which is illegal under the purview of law. Many youths may also share such contents out of their naivety which may in fact brought them under the police and cyber crime scanners or even get imprisonment. In yet another interesting development during the lockdown are the offices and business establishments which are managed and run through the mobile platform.

Several private companies encourage their employees to stay and work from home. Even many a mom and pop store suddenly goes online; goods are ordered and sold through online mobile phone transactions. No wonder more than a dozen local online stores emerged in Imphal that started selling and delivering various food and essential items including wet rations such as fish and meat.

All these transactions happen almost entirely through the mobile phone network. However, most of these transactions or purchases are carried out by the youth through mobile phones on the instruction of their parents and elders, since online transactions are too complicated and difficult for many older generations to understand.

A short story posted online provides a brief picture of the Corona pandemic and how people manage to survive and spend time indoors. The story thus ran as follows...
Online class – Teacher asked the students to write a short essay on “Corona”. So one boy wrote ... Corona is a big ...... festival celebrated by both young and old all over the world. During this festival, schools, markets, churches are closed and exams are cancelled. Everybody wears masks during this festival. It is the time when every school going children gets a Smart phone as a gift from their parents. During this festival “Daddies” learn cooking, washing and cleaning, while mommies and children spend their time with Mobile phones. I love Corona festival very much!

As simple as it sounds, the above story also draws a very clear picture of how people manage to spend their free time during the lockdown. How mobile or smart phone came to occupy an important place in the life of each individual?

How children including even the school going ones spend their free time at home? Why smart phones are bought for children? These are some interesting questions that arise out of the present situation of prolonged lockdown in the country as well as in the state of Manipur.

Some acquaintances in the mobile retail industry informed that smart phones were sold like hot cakes particularly during the few hours of lockdown and curfew relaxation in the early phases of COVID-19 lockdown in Manipur. Brand, model or price was no longer a deterring factor for purchase of mobile phone handsets. Groceries and household essentials were not only the most sought after items during this time of panic buying.

It is learnt that the major reason for parents buying smart phone for their children during the lockdown is the starting of online classes by various schools, colleges and institutions in the state. The intended purpose of these smart phones is nevertheless highly questionable given the fact that our children use only a small amount of time to attend to their online roll call, download video lectures and study notes. While a huge proportion of their time is devoted to things or activities on mobile phones other than their studies.

The online classes being carried out at present is in fact, a good initiative to keep the students occupied and keep them in constant touch with their studies and books. However, the seriousness of students to these classes and the effectiveness of this mode of teaching-learning process need careful examination. Further, online virtual classes may be the most suitable alternative at present taking into account the prevailing situation in the state.

However, the academic atmosphere of a school, the presence of a subject teacher as an authoritative figure in the classroom, the classmates and its environment, the physical and body language of the students and their observation, disciplining and control by the class teacher etc are all completely absent in the online system of education. It is therefore highly questionable if the online mode of education is a good and reliable alternative to the conventional system of teaching and learning. Can virtual classroom replace the old system of education?

Another disturbing aspect of the online class relates to the question of affordability. Do all the parents have the resources enough to buy smartphones for their children’s online classes? This may not be an issue for some but for others it may be the sky falling over their heads. The family income of people in Manipur differs widely. As a matter of fact, it is well known that the income gap is widening and vastly different between urban and rural, the hilly areas and interior parts of the state.

Some of my own students strongly oppose to the idea of virtual class basically because many of them cannot afford to own a smartphone, and that internet/data connectivity in remote areas particularly the hill districts is poor and irregular. For someone living in the heart of Imphal city, this may sound absurd and even strange. But this is the truth, for in some remote corner of the state sometimes facts are stranger than fiction.

It may be pertinent to reproduce here a story that goes viral recently about a poor father in rural India who could not purchase a smartphone for his daughter’s online class. In his last ditch effort, he sold his goat, the only means of his income to pool enough money for the smartphone. Thus, rather than mitigating the problem of no classes for our children, virtual class may actually aggravate the problem of education and enhance class as well as digital divide.

Most of us, teachers, are also taken by surprise since almost all are not trained or are prepared to impart teaching through the online mode. Thus there are inadequacies in all departments of online teaching at present, yet one can only say that this is a good beginning, the first step towards a new direction. The number of hours spent on mobile phone use among school and college going youth seems to be longer during the lockdown.

A few of our students to whom we talked to over the phone informed us that they actually use their mobile phones for 4-5 hours before lunch and another 5-6 hours in the afternoon and at night time. It may therefore be safely assume that many of the students must be spending their time anywhere between 8 to 12 hours a day or even more on their smart phones. This is understandable because schools, colleges, tuition and coaching classes remained closed for more than four months up to the end of July.

Our young people have more free time than ever before during this lengthy period of continuous lockdown. Radio, Television and the Satellite channels are no longer the hot topic for this GenX youths and students as it used to be in their parents era in the 60s, 80s and the 90s.

For them the most exciting and cool things are playing interactive online games with players across the globe, buying a new hot skin for their gaming characters, making and uploading cool YouTube and Likee Videos, getting a lot of Likes on their Facebook page etc. In the pre-lockdown working days, much of our youths spend their time attending school and college.

Many of them also take private tuition classes and coaching classes in the morning and after school hours. Several others also take part in outdoor games and sports coaching, hobby classes etc. Thus their mobile screen time exposure is relatively limited to only a few hours on working days and somewhat longer hours on weekend and holidays. The accumulated free time from these abandoned activities are now spend on mobile phone within the safety of their homes.

Young students who usually play with their friends in schools and in the neighbourhood parks and playgrounds are now required to remain indoors, completely denying childhood playfulness and fun. With no lively games and fun with their friends and playmates, and more and more free time available to them, children naturally fall for the mobile games and entertainment.

Playing interactive online mobile games with their school mates and neighbourhood friends become the most favourite past time for older children. While the younger children including pre-school kids are often found hooked to simple games, animated videos, cartoons, educational rhymes and a host of other child centric applications.

Some of the Apps and mobile games are so dear to the youths that it was unimaginable for them to pass a single day without using them. The popularity of certain online games and Apps among young people especially students can be gauged from the various online reactions and comments posted by them condemning the ban of various China originated Apps in India during the COVID-19 lockdown.

The ban of these Chinese Apps and mobile games arise out of the Indo-China border related issue and confrontation that took place at Galwan valley in Ladakh on June 15, 2020. Thousands of comments fuelled by anger and frustration directed towards the government were posted in various social media platforms strongly criticising the ban on games such as Mobile Legend, Clash of Kings, Hago Play With New Friends, and Apps such as Tiktok, Likee and Helo.

Unmindful of their words and comments, these youngsters pour out their emotions and use the social media to vent out their anger and dissatisfactions. It seems that they are least concerned about why the government has taken up such a step.

It is highly likely that parents are fully aware of their children’s mobile phone using habits and that, too much of it is not good for their children in the long run. However, in order to keep children occupied as also to make them stay indoors and refrain them from other nuisance or mischief, parents may possibly gave them the freedom to use mobile phone for longer hours.

Young people and their mobile phone using pattern have been of much concern prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and consequent lockdown. However, the present situation of prolonged lockdown seems to further enhance an already worrying malaise from bad to worse. On the positive side, children are now introduced to a totally new mode of learning, the online classes, the video lectures which one can follow at one’s own pace and convenience.

The student now has the choice to keep learning and listening to the lectures repeatedly or as often as he wishes or until he/she fully understands the topic. The student also has the possibility of clarifying any doubt with his teacher, raise query, and seek more details through online forum/group of his class.

The youths and students of the state are regularly and frequently using mobile phone for various purposes during the COVID-19 lockdown. It will be of immense interest and worth waiting to see if this trend of mobile phone use among youth continues in the post-COVID period.


* Rajendra Kshetri & Achom Roshan Kumar wrote this article for The Sangai Express
Professor Rajendra Kshetri is Head, Department of Sociology, Manipur University, Canchipur and
Achom Roshan Kumar is Research Scholar, Department of Sociology, Manipur University, Canchipur
This article was webcasted on August 09 2020 .



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