By Zeba Haider, Special to Arab News
Publication Date: 
Thu, 2002-06-27 03:00

DAMMAM, 25 June — At any social gathering someone is always fiddling with his cellular phone. The person is not calling nor is he being called. He is simply playing with the dialpad. He may be sending an SMS (short message service) or he has received one.

The introduction of prepaid mobile cards and the popularization of mobile phones have dramatically increased the number of subscribers in the Kingdom. Indeed, Saudi Telecom Company (STC) has reported a sharp rise in the use of SMS. On an average, more than a million messages are sent everyday. One thing making SMS very popular in the Kingdom is the availability of Arabic script. And all signs are that it will become even more widespread.

SMS addiction is gradually overtaking Internet addiction. "I don’t need a PC or an ISP. There is no need to log on; just write the message and you are through," says one user. The number of messages sent across mobile phones every month and the revenue earned proves that SMS may be more than a passing fad.

Commercial companies and businesses are acting as a catalyst to this addiction by providing many services through SMS. You can have breaking news from CNN and many companies promote products and services through SMS. The constant access lends itself to both habit and dependency.

While obsession with the service isn’t yet a problem, new services that slowly drain money from pockets could be. A family friend said that her 18-year-old son is an SMS addict. His mother paid an enormous mobile bill last month. "Most of the charges were for SMS," she said.

Since prepaid mobile cards have been introduced, access to mobile connections has become much easier. This means that teenagers can run up enormous bills without realizing what they are doing.

SMS is enjoying great success because of its convenience and flexibility. Experts say that commercial companies will soon adopt the technology for promoting their goods and services.

Fortunately here in Saudi Arabia, the addiction to SMS is still in its initial stages and can perhaps be cured. It is surely the duty of parents to control their children and prevent them from becoming addicted to SMS. At the same time, they will have to stop the itching of their own fingers and cease constantly typing on the dialpad. SMS is no doubt a very beneficial service but its misuse is a curse for individual as well as society.

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