Legendary American comedian once said, "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend." This has been considered an adage for ages. However, it seems like the emergence of the wonderous technological inventions in the 21st century did create a context of competition for books as it appears that people spend quite a large amount of time being occupied with a tool called "smartphones". So, the question thus arises, have smartphones become our new best friend, or that position is still reserved for books only?
Before evaluating whether books have lost their appeal, let us pause a bit and try to understand what exactly makes a book, a book. Can anything that contains a plethora of information and communicates them, be considered a book? Or should it be aligned to our typical perception of books- a stack of pages bound together and covered by a jacket? Nowadays, we see books even in the embodiment of electronics known as e-books. The contemporary idea of books might be quite diversified, but mostly when we hear the word book, we see a printed version of it in our imagination.
However, living in this 21st century, deciding to give books the best friend award might not be that straightforward because now there is another competitor in the arena which has been impacting dramatically our lives just like the books did. Since the inception of smartphones, we have been attached to this gadget so adherently that it is almost impossible to spend even a day without it. Be it for the sake of using social media, contacting others, taking snapshots, or having entertainment, smartphones have established themselves not only as a convenience but also as a necessity. Right now, there are an astounding 6.648 billion smartphone users in this world which means 83.72 per cent of the world population owns and uses this gadget. Even Bangladesh, which has very recently moved up to the middle-income country club, had 53.3 million smartphone users in 2020 and the latest report of GSMA predicted that 19 million more users will be added by 2025, making 62 per cent of the country's population smartphone users by then.
Now just because smartphones' myriad utilities have made our life so much more casual and comfortable, does it mean that this coin doesn't have a flip side? Sadly, it does and it is somewhat of a concern, to be honest. Smartphones might have made it possible to communicate with a friend living on the other side of the world, but addiction to smartphones often has weakened the relationship with the ones in our home. Smartphones are massively known as a source of distraction, as it seems like our smartphones are constantly screaming at us, to be switched on, and to be used. App monitoring firm App Annies's research found that currently people use their mobile phones for an average of 4.8 hours a day. According to Deloitte's global consumer survey data, the penetration of smartphones is the highest among the age group of 18 to 24, a staggering 93 per cent.
On the question of whether books or smartphones are going to be the winner in the contest of being people's best friends, the young generation possesses divergent opinions in this regard. Noushin Nuri, a third-year student from IBA-DU says, "For most of us, books are the friends we've lost, and smartphones are in that place now." Toufiq Mahmud, a second-year student from the Department of Chemistry, Rajshahi University would agree with the supremacy of smartphones as well, "Though books can be one's companion in their lonely times, a smartphone is something that serves multi-dimensional purposes. One can have thousands of books stored in their smartphones but the purpose of a smartphone cannot be served with a book."
Nonetheless, some would still favour books over smartphones. Zuhair Ahmed, a student of North South University believes, "Printed book readers would always prefer books of papers over smartphones." Indeed, a person can never have the emotion attached to a printed book from an e-book on a smartphone, as Noushin agrees, "No matter how much time we spend with our smartphones, they'll never create the memories that books used to. This new friend of ours will never live up to the lost one."
Truth be told, one can argue over this issue for a long time, still, it would not be possible to select one single winner. Books and smartphones both have unique and priceless contributions to our lives and there is no point in trying to pick one from these two. It is not mandatory to have only one best friend in our life. It depends on the users, whether they are going to make the appropriate use of a book or a smartphone. A book unread is not going to make anyone's life any better, just like a smartphone's misapplication is going to make life worse rather than doing good. Rather, if we ourselves are mindful of the use, books and smartphones can even be yin and yang for each other.
The writer is a third-year BBA student at IBA, Dhaka University.