Sunday March 26, 2017

The Great Indian Phone Book

At a community meeting in Aurangabad, India.

At a community meeting in Aurangabad, India. (Simone D. McCourtie/World Bank)

Listen 14:43

When we think about the changes brought about by cell phones we tend to focus on the North American experience.

Assa Doron

Assa Doron.

But anthropologist  Assa Doron thinks looking at the way mobile phones have changed life in India has much to teach us about the evolution of technology around the world.  

Assa is the co-author, along with Robin Jeffrey, of The Great Indian Phone Book: How the Cheap Cell Phone Changes Business, Politics, and Daily Life.

The book examines how the cell phone ignited a social revolution in India, as it became an affordable and readily available staple.  

India makes up nearly one fifth of the world's population and with a growing middle class is now the world's second largest smartphone market.

Streetside Repair

A streetside repair shop for mobile phones. (Assa Doron)

However the feature phone still remains very popular. 

That comes as no surprise to Assa.

"The price of the feature phone and its durability and its sturdiness have made it very much more attractive," he says. 

"Cheap mobile phones gave poor people a device that improved their chances in a hard world." 

He believes that it's valuable to examine the disruptive effects of the cell phone in India because it represents, "a world in miniature."  

"Technology does not necessarily determine the way that we conduct ourselves in the world," he says, "but it can certainly influence and shape the way that certain social structures are modified and this has happened across the world."   

Phone Market

Mobile phone upgrades for sale at a New Delhi market. (Assa Doron)