Smartphones for History Lessons
A study by the Microsoft Corporation concluded in 2015 that the average attention span of humans has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds, officially below that of a goldfish.
The same study also concluded that we're better at multitasking and that the advent of mobile Internet and readily available information demands less from us than ever before. Before the 2000s, the average human brain had to process more information, hold more of it and recall that information when needed, because people simply didn't have anything equivalent to the handheld supercomputers that the average teen has in his/her hands now. That meant reading books, gathering knowledge, and retaining information for later use.
Yet, despite this access to readily available information, every year, we're forced to watch in agony as a reporter from a TV channel randomly picks a person out of a crowd and asks them the significance of February 21, March 26, or December 16 in our nation's history. Like watching a slow moving car crash, the viewer's face slowly distorts into a barely recognisable caricature of its former self as s/he cringes at the laughably wrong answers thrown around by the people interrogated on TV. Every year, without pause, the TV channels compete on how to embarrass their randomly sampled victims, barely pausing and reflecting on the root cause of the issue – the lack of effective mediums with which to educate these people about their nation's history.
The solution seems readily obvious to Moinul Islam Shuvo, COO of Amar Source, an engineering and technology firm that recently launched an app - Timeline 71 - to try and inform the smartphone generation of important events during Bangladesh's drive towards liberation.
“The present generation, the teenagers born after the 2000's, is not very interested in reading books outside of the school curriculum, especially books related to history or historical facts. At present, there are not enough tech-based platforms which can be used to inform and educate the average teenager of Bangladesh's history, and that is where we wanted to come in,” says Shuvo, a BUET graduate.
Timeline 71 uses a simple system that allows users to set a time of day when they'd like to be notified of what happened on that particular day back in 1971. All sources are cited, and if used properly, the app could be very useful to researchers, students and history buffs alike. Amar Source plans on expanding the app, working on the visuals, and including recording clips from Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra.
There's a slight problem here though. As mentioned, there are people working on using technology to reach the youth, and the number of people working on similar apps can only go up from here. Question is, will the target audience even be interested?
If presented in the right format, they will be. Heroes of 71 and a sequel, Heroes of 71: Retaliation, available on Android mobile platforms, were launched in 2016 and met with highly appreciative reviews which praised the gameplay mechanics, storyline, visuals and the inclusion of virtual female freedom fighters in the sequel. More importantly, there was a sense of pride among users because they realised they were playing a game set in Bangladesh and developed in Bangladesh by Bangladeshis. Since its launch, the game has been downloaded over 1 million times and has a high number of repeat users.
However, most young developers and IT professionals can't really hope to reach the same kind of levels that the developers of Heroes of 71 reached, because they simply don't have the necessary resources to develop extensive apps, websites, or archives revolving around Bangladeshi history.
This is where state support can come into play. The Bangladesh ICT Ministry has funds worth hundreds of crores of taka to give to deserving candidates, with up to 250 crore taka available for individual projects. Those funds can be used for infomercials, road shows, campus visits and concerts to make the youth connect with their nation's past in ways that make a lasting impact. It doesn't have to stop at 1971 either – with state sponsorship and teaming up with the historians and academics from the top educational institutions in the country, motivated young developers can change the tone of the country's youth towards history, and perhaps even generate interest in the history of the Bengal region as opposed to just Bangladesh.
The writer is In-charge, Shift, The Daily Star.