App-happy but edgy | Sunday Observer

App-happy but edgy

20 August, 2023

Are the young people of Sri Lanka any less technically savvy than their counterparts in other parts of the world? During the meltdown of 2022, at the height of the power cuts, the major complaint on the streets was that people didn’t have access to internet. There must be footage of these interview snippets somewhere, in archival material.

Of course those interviewed were saying they are worried about their children. But the children were dutifully trying to do their homework via internet and to a great extent that worked too, when schools were closed, and everything was going pear-shaped as far as ordinary day to day survival was concerned.

We are now almost in a different era when we do a retrospective of all that. Everything is being done online, shopping, filling of forms, keeping up with the friends circle so and so on. If the older people do some of this some of the time, the young do most of it all the time — and then some.

Their lives are characterised by greater levels of convenience than the preceding generation ever imagined. If its food, they can have it delivered anytime they think about it. If it’s work, they can work from home most of the time at least.

If it’s holidays, they have a variety of destinations and options to choose from. In fact, all of entertainment that’s at their fingertips is at the reach of a few keys on a keyboard, and they don’t have to carry hard cash to pay, literally, and could do so on credit.

Their education doesn’t have to be too laboured, because they have everything again within their reach super-fast, and they don’t have to go hunting for books and other material because virtually everything they want is within reach on the web.


They don’t only live a life of convenience, they can reach for the phone and keep themselves occupied in ways that would be useful even though most of them use the phone mostly to indulge in useless, time-killing pastimes. But at least they can do these useless things and don’t have to stare at the ceiling when they queue-stand or engage in some modern form of drudgery or slow-torture.

But their lives of convenience also meets with hard reality because cash doesn’t flow on the internet as easily as the food that’s delivered. Of course they earn money on the internet too, at least some of them, but for the most part hard cash doesn’t come by that easily, and on this score they are perhaps left more anxious even than their predecessors from the previous generations.

But they do devise ways of making money online too or at least some of them do. But if they can’t, they turn away from reality just as easily as they would order donuts on a food delivery app.

If they have the money they have everything at the click of a link on their devices but about the money — well, that’s a big if.

But what’s also different in their lives is that they avoid the hard-edges, the confrontations and the scrums that most young people of previous generations had to face when they went about attending to mundane matters, such as buying household essentials for instance. As a result, their lives are lived sometimes almost in abstraction. They are not rooted in the reality of bringing the bacon home, because most of the time the bacon comes home, and they don’t so much as know where it comes from, and most times don’t even care.

Their only interactions are with the delivery person, but that young individual also is most times glued to his own smart phone, even as he hands over the food or the groceries.

When people live these abstracted and convenient lives, what do they feel about their environment, and where their food and other essentials come from? Perhaps, a great deal of indifference. But also there could be a greater deal of resentment than previous generations harboured. For their predecessor generations, going out there and being in the hurly burly, having to buy food and buy train tickets always at the counter and never at any remote location and so on, meant that they felt the struggles of everyone and perhaps had an inbuilt sense of empathy as a result.

But if everything keeps coming your way at the click of a link on a device, and if the devices themselves are full of advertisements that entice you to experience the good life, where is the empathy coming from?

If the lifestyles of the young are hard-wired to avoid empathy and if feeling the pain of others is not an intrinsic part of the reality of modern youth, how would these generations and the ones yet to come deal with the issues of caring and sharing?

Perhaps they won’t deal with them at all. It’s said that some of the young people in the West are not sure where the milk or the sausages come from because there is no way they are going to find out.


Meat is something they eat and they don’t want to process how that happens, how that stuff ends on their plate, and talk about process, most of the meat they eat is heavily processed too, and they’d probably argue that anything of that shape or form could never come from animals, even if someone tells them it does. But if the lives of the young are becoming more sanitised, more abstracted and more convenient, that poses social problems of the type previous generations probably didn’t think of.

But the ‘system’ is too engaged in fending for everybody i.e keeping the economy ticking, that societal issues are not on anybody’s radar.

That is the purpose of this article, in case you were wondering. Society needs to put these issues on the radar, and if more developed societies than ours haven’t done so, there is no prohibition for ours to be the pioneers in this regard. Perhaps, someone may ask if there are rupees or cents or dollars in it, because every enterprise is boiled down to its net financial outcome these days.

But we don’t have to make a cent or a dime from making society a better place. Societies that create the level of convenience that’s offered in today’s app plugged-in and smart phone-smart surroundings would breed a type of individual that wouldn’t empathise with the struggles of fellow humans, leave alone those of animals.

They’d also feel that all that’s on offer and all that is conveniently available is far too tantalising. More apps don’t certainly mean more money, and our recent economic events and so on have ensured that money is always a struggle for young people, or you could say, especially the young people.

Just as some of them were graduating into the job market, the economic contraction happened and a lot of them had to put job-seeking on hold. If they don’t have resentment, at least a lot of these young folk may harbour a sense of bewilderment.

They see what it is to be able to live good lives, an arm’s length away from their own money-deprived realities. That must be excruciating.

But if they loll around at home it doesn’t give these folk much of a chance to see the hard realities out there for everyone else either. They wouldn’t care about animal rights because animals are curtained off from their reality, just as a bulk of other human beings are similarly curtained off as well.


You can’t blame the young folk. It’s a lifestyle reality for them that they didn’t impose on themselves. But in these circumstances, there must be someone or some system that brings these people down to earth and at least make them confront part of the harsh reality outside. It has to be done, even if it’s done by a dedicated app for it (irony), and societies such as ours that were by nature community-oriented should perhaps take on the burden of teaching youth that too much of convenience, too many app-induced comfort-zoning, are an insulation from reality that’s not healthy, or humanising. Somebody needs to show them that there is a life beyond the app, and if it must be us, we should gladly be the first to do it.