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SPECIAL REPORT: S'POREANS& THEIR HANDPHONES Mobile madness

YOUR money or your handphone? Faced with such a choice, Singaporeans would rather sacrifice their wallet, even their passport, than lose their handphone. In a poll of 100 Singaporeans, The New Paper On Sunday found that more than half ranked the handphone as their most prized material possession when they're out and about. These same people did not think their IC, passport, wallet, watch or partner's photograph were as important. 'If I have my handphone and no wallet, I would be able to call my friends to borrow money. I can also play games on my phone when I'm bored,' said student Joan Lee, 20. 'Also, if I have my phone with me, there's no need for a watch because I can use the clock on my phone.' 'My handphone has all my contacts in it, and these are valuable to me. Cards and identification papers in my wallet can be replaced, but some of these contacts can't,' said Mr Nicholas Lum, 37, a port officer. To some, the handphone is no longer something they want, it's something they need. 'The handphone is a source of connectivity to the world. I'm a slave to it!' said student Chen Yeshan, 22. ONE PHONE NOT ENOUGH Then, there are those who feel one is not enough - they need two or three handphones. 'I need one for SMS-ing and one for making and receiving calls. I decided on this system because this saves me up to $30 a month,' said Ms Soh Yeing Yeing, 23, a recent graduate. 'I need to keep in touch with so many people that I can easily send more than 1,000 SMS messages in a month. People have even been known to go to extremes to get their handphones back when they lose them. Last year, one man placed an ad in the papers offering a reward of $1,000 for his lost handphone. The handphone in question cost $631. Why have we become so dependent on our handphones? Sociology researcher Alwyn Lim thinks that it's because it helps us stay connected. 'Generally, Singaporeans are a very group-minded people, as opposed to an individualistic people,' said the 29-year-old, who is currently pursuing his PhD at the State University of New York. 'Since the handphone allows us to stay connected so efficiently and affordably, we become dependent on it.' At least one survey respondent felt the same way. 'Connectivity is very important and the handphone allows me to stay in contact with others,' agreed Mr Julian Ling, 32, a reinsurance broker. Mr Lim also said that this dependency on handphones could be work-related as well. 'Because the workplace is so much more competitive, and the pace so much faster than before, the handphone really helps,' he said. But, as with most technologies, it cuts both ways, said Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser, from the National University of Singapore's Sociology Department.

'Owning something like a handphone means that one can, and is often required to, stay contactable regardless of time and space,' he said. 'It blurs the line between work and non-work life. Holidays, leisure, and family time will no longer be the same.' Interestingly, the very advantage of the handphone has also been exploited by many for less-than-desirable activities. Take English footballer David Beckham, for instance. Earlier this year, his sexy SMS exchanges with two women, who claimed to have had affairs with him, were splashed in newspapers. 'ALIBI CLUBS' If only Beckham had known about the handphone-based 'alibi clubs'. These clubs have sprung up in the US, Europe and Asia, connecting thousands of willing collaborators. The text sender and responding helper craft lies to help users hide their whereabouts, and create alibis to help them conceal affairs. Said Mr Lim: 'I think this might eventually become a trend here in Singapore as well. This is because the handphone merely helps some people do what they've probably been doing all along, only more efficiently. 'For all we know, people are already helping each other create alibis, to cheat on their spouses, for example. 'They're just not doing it in such an organised manner. With technology, it's just a matter of time.'

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