|Following the circulation of vicious SMSes, people from North East living in Pune and Bangalore started leaving for their native place on a large scale
When the cellphone was invented, the SMS (short messaging service) was supposed to be an afterthought. The phone was supposed to be used mainly for voice calls. Everything else was called “value added services” (VAS) which were incidental. These included SMS, ringtones and song downloads.
Phone companies expected their main revenue to come from voice, and VAS to generate only small additional income. But VAS was a great success. Song downloads generate more than Rs 5,000 crore annually in India. Using a cellphone to download songs, or as a camera is called an “application”, or “app” for short. You can take a picture, listen to a song, play the radio, use it as a torch, or use it as a navigation (GPS) device.
These are all different uses of the cellphone. These are all apps. The word “apps” has become generic thanks to Apple’s iPhone. However the most amazing app has been SMS. That’s why SMS is called the “killer app”. That’s because it costs almost nothing to the cellphone company to send an SMS.
The cost if not zero, is maybe 1 paisa. But a typical SMS generates 50 paisa revenue for the cell company. If you are sending an SMS to Indian Idol or some other television show, it could be Rs 3, or even higher. Hence there is a huge profit margin. In the western world, especially the USA, you have to pay to even to receive an SMS.
So it is doubly profitable, since SMS charges are collected both from sender and receiver. Annually more than 6 trillion SMSes are sent worldwide. The revenues to the phone companies can only be imagined. No wonder the SMS is called “the killer app” of cellphones. Unfortunately, this week the SMS in India has become a killer app quite literally.
Bulk SMSes were used to spread vicious rumours, and to create panic and fear in Bangalore and Pune. These poisonous messages were sent to thousands of students and workers, saying that people from Assam and North East were going to be targeted for retaliatory violence.
This purported retaliation was for the month long violent riots of Kokrajhar in Assam, where 73 people died, and 4,00,000 were rendered homeless, mostly Muslims. The relief camps are depressing, described by some as scenes of disease and death. The circulating SMSes in South India tried to spread lies that retaliatory killing had started, and more was coming.
This was enough poison, which got compounded by news of attacks against Northeasterners in cities like Pune. Even people from Tibet, Nepal or Manipur were not spared. Parents called their wards frantically, asking them to come back. There was a scene of an exodus at Bangalore railway station.
Only because of unified intervention of government officials, police, politicians, media and several citizens’ groups, some sanity returned. But the deadly SMS virus had certainly spread, and was difficult to eradicate quickly.
Hence the government has banned sending of bulk SMSes for the next fifteen days, until the situation calms down. Mumbai’s violent riot at Azad Maidan too was fueled by lies and falsehoods and doctored images spread by SMS.
One of those arrested for snatching a policeman’s rifle, said he heard about the rally from an SMS. Ultimately SMS is just a technological tool, a “killer app” in “wow” sense. Good SMS can certainly drive out bad SMS. Rumours, propaganda and prejudice are much older than SMS. Remember the “news” of Ganesh idol drinking milk spread virally and instantly across India?
That was much before the days of SMS. So the best usage of this killer app, is when people’s minds are inoculated with sound knowledge, scientific temper and a healthy dose of skepticism.
Singapore’s dwindling population
This refers to Ajit Ranade’s column ‘Singapore and Kerala asking for babies’, (PM, August 11). It was amazing to know that Singapore transformed itself from a poor to a rich nation in one generation. Unfortunately, all its wealth and prosperity is meaningless until it has a decent of number inhabitants.
The city-state has been experiencing the challenge of zero population growth for quite some time now. Although the Singaporean government has announced attractive policies for couples bearing more children, the idea hasn’t really worked. In such a scenario, it is left with no option but to open its doors to migrants.
- Sanjeev Kumar