Gen Y Speaks: I got my first smartphone only at age 21. This is how it changed my life
I am 28, and the Asia-Pacific managing director of Helpling, a lifestyle app for on-demand home services. I oversee a business spanning over 1,000 service providers and employees in Singapore, Australia and Malaysia. Looking back, there have been many memorable moments in my life, but one that stood out took place on Aug 2, 2013.
I am 28, and the Asia-Pacific managing director of Helpling, a lifestyle app for on-demand home services. I oversee a business spanning over 1,000 service providers and employees in Singapore, Australia and Malaysia.
Looking back, there have been many memorable moments in my life, but one that stood out took place on Aug 2, 2013.
I got my first smartphone on that day — a Samsung Galaxy S4 — as a back-to-school gift from my uncle.
It may be just another gadget for most people; but it was a milestone for me in many ways.
Before this, I was using a nondescript “army phone” — the quintessential phone for every full-time National Serviceman in the early 2010s.
A week ago I got my smartphone, I unwittingly became the centre of attention among my university orientation group mates — due to the 2G phone that I carried.
In the midst of my peers with their 3G/4G variants, my caveman phone stood out like a sore thumb.
They were evidently flabbergasted and shocked — this 21-year-old guy actually did not own a smartphone!
“James, how did you survive the past few years without WhatsApp? Such a poor thing — don’t you have friends to talk to?” asked Kelvin, my orientation group mate.
Grace, my assigned buddy, added: “It’s so expensive to text you over SMS, why don’t you just get a smartphone?”
It was clear that for this group of spirited extroverts, my reclusive nature was otherworldly.
Who in Singapore at the age of 21 does not have any social media accounts? Well, me!
I did not believe in spending my hard-earned savings on keeping up with peer pressure or snapping up the latest tech toys.
In fact, with just my laptop, I could do everything I wanted — surf the internet, play games and have an occasional MSN conversation with the people that I care for.
Once-a-week SMSes and physical meet-ups with my best friends and then-girlfriend more than fulfilled my social needs.
Never failing to bail out of group outings with ex-schoolmates and my National Service peers, I kept my inner circle intentionally small as I struggled to socialise with people who were not particularly close to me.
Instead of being silent during such social gatherings, I found more comfort in being alone at home and digesting a good book on human behaviour — how ironical!
My life may be narrow in its scope, but it was certainly well-lived and well-defined.
Then came the new smartphone which somewhat heralded my coming-of-age.
I initially grappled with the newfound connectivity — getting message alerts every hour on my mobile phone took quite a bit of getting used to.
Thankfully, with the help of my tech-savvy university friends, I gradually eased into the new social norm — playing Clash of Clans with them and saying “WhatsApp me” instead of “SMS me”.
SHAKING UP MY PERSONAL LIFE
WhatsApp was the first app that I installed in my new smartphone and the very first thing I did was to join my orientation group’s chat.
It did not take me too long to figure out how it worked.
Soon, I was happily sending memes and YouTube videos of all kinds to the group chat — it became a recurring theme as I met more people and joined new cliques in university.
Because it got so easy for me to communicate and engage with my peers, acquaintances quickly became friends, and I had unknowingly stepped out of my introverted past.
WhatsApp became the main conduit through which I formed and maintained friendships during university — many of whom have turned out to be really close friends even till now.
Now, WhatsApp conversations make up 80 per cent of the communication in both my personal and professional life.
It is hard to believe that just barely seven years ago, I eschewed such a technology that is now an essential in my life.
Compared to WhatsApp, it took me a longer time to take to social media.
It was only in 2015, at the ripe old age of 23, that I installed Facebook and Instagram.
I use Facebook mainly to reconnect with peers from the past.
Many were old friends from secondary school and my National Service days — I learned that they had been tagging me as “MIA” or Missing in Action in many of our group photos.
Many of my “unglamorous” photos were also uploaded online without my knowledge. I do have a tinge of regret not having a Facebook account earlier.
Instagram, too, has since become my go-to platform to keep up to date with what my inner circle of friends are up too.
LAUNCHING MY CAREER
Fiddling with my smartphone and new apps piqued my interest in technology and e-commerce, eventually paving the way for me to join Rocket Internet in 2016 and subsequently, Helpling — its portfolio company in the home services sector.
Our service providers are typically blue-collar workers who rely heavily on Helpling for income opportunities — using the app to find and manage home maintenance jobs amid growing market demand for such services.
Financial security means a lot to them and the words of gratitude we receive for helping them remains one of the most uplifting and motivating things I’ve experienced in my life.
Never did I once imagine that I’ll be creating such an impact on the people in my wider community.
All these would not have happened if I remained the reclusive caveman that I was — with little interest in checking out the latest technology and interacting with people.
Unexpectedly, my first smartphone kickstarted a serendipitous change of events that made me who I am today.
Had I continued to live in my own world and resisted getting a smartphone in 2013, I may not have met all the amazing people in my life right now.
While I am still relatively introverted, I am now able to engage with people like my more extroverted peers — thanks to the smartphone and its apps.
I catch up with colleagues, friends and business associates over Zoom video calls and maintain conversations with them on WhatsApp and Instagram.
I can have over 30 online conversations on an average day, ranging from serious work matters to more casual messages from friends.
Technology has indeed levelled the playing ground for introverts like me.
With safe distancing a new norm, technology and digital communications have become even more important.
What am I to do without my smartphone and its array of mobile apps?
I guess that’s something I would never have thought of saying just eight years ago.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
James Lim, 28, is Asia Pacific managing director of Helpling, a home services technology company headquartered in Berlin.
This piece is written in partnership with Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G as part of a series on how technology has empowered youths in their work and play.
Related topicsTechnology smartphone career social media mobile phone
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