Headline, April12, 2014


INDIA :: !WOW! "'

AT A TIME when Google is about to release a computer that fits on a pair of spectacles,  and Apple and Samsung are-

Racing to build a phone-like device to replace the wristwatch, it is easy to think of mobile phones as unremarkable.

Yet in societies where communications have traditionally been restricted, they are still quite revolutionary. 

In 2000 India had a population of more than  1 billion  and  28.5 million telephones, mostly  landlines.

By  2012  there were nearly  "" 900 million SIM  cards alone"".  More Indians have used a mobile phone than a toilet. And millions of people now work in and around the telecoms industry.

HOW did India go from being a country in which making a phone calls was "exquisite torture"  to the world's second largest market for mobile phones in just ten years?

And what did this rapid proliferation of communication do to Indian society?

Assa Doron's and Robin Jeffery's ambitious survey is a good place to find some answers.

India's  fixed-line network has long been outdated, unreliable and concentrated in urban areas. But the vast geography and stratified society posed special challenges.

A state controlled economy was incapable of producing the cable required to link the  600,000  villages where  three-quarters of India's people lived. Nor were the benefits of telephony immediately obvious to the Indian state.

Phones were not a priority at Independence in 1947, and they were still viewed with suspicion when a  1977  policy recommendation  highlighted a  "need to curb growth of telecommunication infrastructure".

That changed in 1991, when India began opening itself up to the global economy. Indian telecoms rode the wave of reforms then being implemented.

Despite a  "messy spectrum-allotment process",  unfeasibly high prices and many vested interests,  the industry grew, albeit slowly. By the time the policies were streamlined in  2003, there was no stopping the deluge.

As phones spread, they wrought great changes. Fishermen in the south discovered they could use their phones while at sea to find out which port was offering the highest price for their catch.

Northern river boatmen expanded their business by making calls to find new customers without breaking the community's  strict rules on picking up fares out of turn.

Men and women about to enter into arranged marriages were able to get to know each other, and cloistered women found a connection to the outside world.

Many thinkers and authors, make a case for ascribing a state election victory in 2007, at least in part, to the mobile phones.

""The Great Indian Phone Book""  is actually two books in one. the first half is a whirlwind recap of how India was connected, told simply and with a wealth of numbers.

The second is an ethnographic study that dives into the intricacies of Indian society without pretending to be comprehensive.

It is far from perfect!

Repetition   -especially  of the figure of   900 million  SIM cards  -abounds. So many of these are inactive that the real figure is believed to be between  25% and 30% less than that.

But the strength of the book lies in its  "repeated emphasis on technology"  as something that  "does nor eliminate political and social structures, though it may modify them".

In one example, a courting couple finds their fledgling relationship abruptly terminated when the girl's father confiscates her phone:

^The couple accept the diktat  and move on^.

With respectful dedication to the Students, Professors and Teachers of Asia. See Ya all on  !WOW!   -the World Students Society Computers-Internet-Wireless:

"'Toasting The World "'

Good Night & God Bless!

SAM Daily Times - the Voice of the Voiceless


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