Cellular Technology Have Changed Pakistan

I talk – Hajra Mumtaz by Hajra Mumtaz

13 July, 2009  Print This Post   |   Email This Post   |    Share on Facebook 

July 13th by Hajra Mumtaz.

 

It is hard to fully grasp the scale of the manner in which the media and cellular technology have changed Pakistan.

On the hills of Murree, for example, buses run at irregular intervals and, of course, there are no schedules. This is a problem for the very large number of people who regularly commute to Islamabad, Rawalpindi or other places of work. Matters are made more difficult by the fact that the roads linking up the small hamlets are generally unreliable – landslides, fallen trees, spill-over water from the kassis and cave-ins can bring vehicular traffic to a halt at any time.

Given that the houses are dotted across the slopes, many of them a long, hard climb from the nearest metalled road, the absence of a reliable system of learning of the road and transport conditions was an issue. Until recently would-be travellers used to have to leave their houses early and wait by the road indefinitely until the bus arrived. They would not know how long they’d have to wait, or whether the bus would come at all in case the road had been forced close. If they happened to miss the bus, they couldn’t afford to go back home because they wouldn’t know when the next one was coming along.

But increasingly inexpensive cellular technology has spared the people of the Murree tehsil – and no doubt other such areas – of this tedium. Now, they simple call someone, a relative, friend or shopkeeper, who lives further along the route. That way, they find out not only whether the road is open but also whether the bus has been past, allowing them to estimate when they need to reach the road.

Meanwhile, a fair few people make it a habit to tune into a radio or television to find out what is happening down in the city that may affect their daily life – whether, say, certain areas have been cordoned off because of a protest rally or security alert, which have become increasingly common in the past months.

According to the advertisements, there are now over 60 million cellphones in Pakistan, a number that seems to be rising exponentially every day. With there being quite a number of Pakistanis still under the age of 18, that means that a significant proportion of the country’s adult population enjoys access to a cellphone. And though we may smile at the sight of a butcher chatting as he works the mincer, it is a fact that cheap cellular technology has brought about a revolution in the country’s skilled urban workforce – a revolution that goes largely unacknowledged.

The situation is beneficial for everybody concerned, it seems. The plumbers, carpenters, and electricians have gained access to more work, the people employing their services can do so more easily and conveniently, and the creative amongst us have conjured niche markets up out of nowhere.

In Bath Island here in Karachi, for example, a local vegetable vendor runs a home delivery service through his cellphone. (He says that he tried in vain for years to get a landline connection.) Call him in the morning when the produce is fresh from the Mandi and it’ll be on your doorstep in time for lunch, without you having had to step out of the house. And in Lahore, I met Tanveer, who runs a one-man meals delivery service. He needed to supplement what he earned as an electrician. Casting about, the enterprising gentleman realised that Defence has a large number of cheap fast-food joints, none of which ran delivery services. Nearby, meanwhile, is the Lahore University of Management Sciences, with its hungry but transport-deprived student population. Call on his cellphone and he’ll pick up meals from any or all of the area’s small eateries for a small fee – which isn’t much, but neither are his overheads and the money all adds up. Once Tanveer led the way, a fair number of other one-man meals on wheels services have started operating in Lahore.

Running a house involves daily niggling headaches such as burnt-out electrical sockets, a malfunctioning stove or a roach problem. In the bad old days, you either went to the technician’s shop or, if he had pull within PTCL (since getting a connection was no easy task), called the shop’s landline number. If the technician was any good, chances were that he’d be out on a job. The chota would promise faithfully to relay the message that your drains were blocked – and immediately forget. After waiting a day in ankle-deep water, you’d return to the shop or leave another message … and so on.

Today, you merely call the plumber on his cellphone and he may well come round as soon as he’s finished the job at hand. Because he’s reachable all the time, he can do that many more jobs a day and the homeowner, meanwhile, doesn’t have to move an inch. Many people, in fact, don’t even know where their technician’s shops are located since such ‘emergency’ numbers tend to circulate amongst the residents of a given locality.

The reason Pakistan took to cellular technology like a fish to water is not because we love to talk, but simply because they’ve made our working lives that much easier.

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July 13th by Hajra Mumtaz.

 

It is hard to fully grasp the scale of the manner in which the media and cellular technology have changed Pakistan.

On the hills of Murree, for example, buses run at irregular intervals and, of course, there are no schedules. This is a problem for the very large number of people who regularly commute to Islamabad, Rawalpindi or other places of work. Matters are made more difficult by the fact that the roads linking up the small hamlets are generally unreliable – landslides, fallen trees, spill-over water from the kassis and cave-ins can bring vehicular traffic to a halt at any time.

Given that the houses are dotted across the slopes, many of them a long, hard climb from the nearest metalled road, the absence of a reliable system of learning of the road and transport conditions was an issue. Until recently would-be travellers used to have to leave their houses early and wait by the road indefinitely until the bus arrived. They would not know how long they’d have to wait, or whether the bus would come at all in case the road had been forced close. If they happened to miss the bus, they couldn’t afford to go back home because they wouldn’t know when the next one was coming along.

But increasingly inexpensive cellular technology has spared the people of the Murree tehsil – and no doubt other such areas – of this tedium. Now, they simple call someone, a relative, friend or shopkeeper, who lives further along the route. That way, they find out not only whether the road is open but also whether the bus has been past, allowing them to estimate when they need to reach the road.

Meanwhile, a fair few people make it a habit to tune into a radio or television to find out what is happening down in the city that may affect their daily life – whether, say, certain areas have been cordoned off because of a protest rally or security alert, which have become increasingly common in the past months.

According to the advertisements, there are now over 60 million cellphones in Pakistan, a number that seems to be rising exponentially every day. With there being quite a number of Pakistanis still under the age of 18, that means that a significant proportion of the country’s adult population enjoys access to a cellphone. And though we may smile at the sight of a butcher chatting as he works the mincer, it is a fact that cheap cellular technology has brought about a revolution in the country’s skilled urban workforce – a revolution that goes largely unacknowledged.

The situation is beneficial for everybody concerned, it seems. The plumbers, carpenters, and electricians have gained access to more work, the people employing their services can do so more easily and conveniently, and the creative amongst us have conjured niche markets up out of nowhere.

In Bath Island here in Karachi, for example, a local vegetable vendor runs a home delivery service through his cellphone. (He says that he tried in vain for years to get a landline connection.) Call him in the morning when the produce is fresh from the Mandi and it’ll be on your doorstep in time for lunch, without you having had to step out of the house. And in Lahore, I met Tanveer, who runs a one-man meals delivery service. He needed to supplement what he earned as an electrician. Casting about, the enterprising gentleman realised that Defence has a large number of cheap fast-food joints, none of which ran delivery services. Nearby, meanwhile, is the Lahore University of Management Sciences, with its hungry but transport-deprived student population. Call on his cellphone and he’ll pick up meals from any or all of the area’s small eateries for a small fee – which isn’t much, but neither are his overheads and the money all adds up. Once Tanveer led the way, a fair number of other one-man meals on wheels services have started operating in Lahore.

Running a house involves daily niggling headaches such as burnt-out electrical sockets, a malfunctioning stove or a roach problem. In the bad old days, you either went to the technician’s shop or, if he had pull within PTCL (since getting a connection was no easy task), called the shop’s landline number. If the technician was any good, chances were that he’d be out on a job. The chota would promise faithfully to relay the message that your drains were blocked – and immediately forget. After waiting a day in ankle-deep water, you’d return to the shop or leave another message … and so on.

Today, you merely call the plumber on his cellphone and he may well come round as soon as he’s finished the job at hand. Because he’s reachable all the time, he can do that many more jobs a day and the homeowner, meanwhile, doesn’t have to move an inch. Many people, in fact, don’t even know where their technician’s shops are located since such ‘emergency’ numbers tend to circulate amongst the residents of a given locality.

The reason Pakistan took to cellular technology like a fish to water is not because we love to talk, but simply because they’ve made our working lives that much easier.

 

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