Riding on the backs of cheap smartphones and even cheaper internet plans, the Indian digital economy grew up by leaps and bounds in the past 5-7 years.
Marketeers and businesses saw immense potential for growth and untapped demand in India’s rurban agglomerations and the rural hinterlands.
However, the flip side is increased dependency on smartphones and growing addiction to it. My generation was lucky enough to have grown on an analog diet, and therefore, we are able to toggle between a device on and off mode. The same luxury may not be available to the coming generation growing up hooked to their smartphones.
Couple smartphone addiction with information deprivation, absence of quality teachers & mentors, and lack of access to the new knowledge economy, the rurban and rural populations may get reduced to content consumers - lacking any abstract or production skills.
Without the potential to gain from osmosis from those who know better, redemption may be far away, ergo, we may have in front of us, an upcoming generation that is fed on electronic media fads, while being completely disconnected from their immediate realities, and on top of that lacking any training to think or analyze their educational materials - thus stunting their academic growth.
Smartphone addiction is a thing because of the way apps are designed to keep attention hooked 24/7, which could also lead to a deficient personality, mental health issues, or suicides in the case of real money gaming apps, when users could end up losing a lot of (borrowed) money.
Unfortunately, rural folks do not realize the gravity of the issue - and instead presume that their toddlers are prodigies for handling smartphones when their elder selves can't make sense of those devices.
In this light, self-regulated controls should be meditated upon and implemented through appropriate algorithms. Facebook, for e.g., allows users to set up a timer that reminds them of crossing their daily usage limit. Likewise, other apps could remind their users that they have had enough for the day and that they could go do something else. These controls could be implemented in a manner that does not drive down the user base or monetization, while detecting unhealthy usage behaviours.
It’s a problem created by technology, and therefore, it should be resolved by technology. If unaddressed, this may snowball into a larger public health issue. Then calls may be made to regulate such apps as well for their addictive aspects, whether through a statute or through a self-regulatory mechanism, a prospect which businesses would perhaps not appreciate.