"Doing the Internet:" How Young People in a Slum in India are Using the Internet on their Mobile Phones

Posted by AnneryanHeatwole on Mar 14, 2012

While there's often discussion about the promise of mobiles for development, an important aspect of developing projects that focus on mobile tech is a deep understanding of how individuals already use their mobile devices. "Anthropology, Development and ICTs: Slums, Youth and the Mobile Internet in Urban India" takes a close look at how young people in India use their mobile phones.

Drawn from interviews with twenty randomly selected young people in the Hafeezpet slum of Hyderabad, the study looks at how they use the mobile web. The mobile Internet has become a key feature in the participants' days, with a heavy focus on games, music, movies, and other entertainment options. The authors explain that the focus on entertainment is a new way to look at how ICT4D can reach populations. They write:

...The ICT for development community tends to privilege what are and what are not desired/legitmate developmental impacts of technology. [...] From an anthropological perspective, this distinction is arbitrary, even harmful, because it unnecessarily blinkers the ICTD community into looking only at a narrow slice of the full range of human experience of the people who are using the technologies.

In the study, young people describe in their own words how they access the Internet with their mobile phones, discussing the fun of discovering new games, music, and videos. Participants who discovered new music or games would share them with friends, and those with higher-end phones would pass along discoveries to those with lower-end phones. The participants referred to using the web on their mobile phones as "doing the Internet," as it was viewed as a social and entertaining activity.

Interesting findings:

  • The researchers found that for fifteen of the twenty interview participants, their first experience with the Internet came through a mobile phone.
  • Young people create social "hubs" to exchange information on mobile browsing, deals for data plans, sites to access free online entertainment, and various technical fixes.
  • Mobile phones helped the participants get access to the Internet without depending on Internet cafes, giving them a chance to explore the Internet however they wanted. The mobile device also encouraged socialization, as the young people wanted to share new and entertaining things with friends.
  • Most of the participants were not using the phones for any specific "development"-oriented reasons, but using their phones for entertainment helped participants become familiar with mobile and computer-based technologies, opening the door for using technology in other ways.

The report concluded:

Adopting a narrow development lens can miss the actual engagements and ingenious strategies marginal populations use to instate technologies into their everyday.  Here, seeking entertainment becomes a key behavioral tool to strategize technology use. Indeed, this may require us to broaden our view of how we think about what underlies a good ICTD research project and how we view a range of human behaviors as incremental to development.

Studying how mobile phones are used from an anthropological point of view rather than with a development focus revealed how low-income, urban Indian youths actually use technology in their day-to-day lives. The authors conclude that this information can be adapted for later work to create ICT4D projects that will be useful and entertaining to the target groups.

"Doing the Internet:" How Young People in a Slum in India are Using the Internet on their Mobile Phones data sheet 6260 Views
Countries: India

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