Mobile Phones and Media Consumption Practices: A Brief Introduction to the Project

In this post, Rashmi M, one of the researchers who received the Social Media Research grant for 2014, introduces her proposed work.
Traveling in buses, passenger trains, auto rickshaws; strolling past the market places and casually observing people around me, I have noticed the ubiquitous presence of mobile phones in our everyday lives. Nowadays, it is a very common thing to find people listening to music, watching videos, navigating albums on their phones as they go about their usual lives. While mobile phones are normally associated with communication revolution (connecting people far and wide), they have not remained as just communication devices. Even the basic mobile phone models come with camera, radio, MP3 playback, recording and data transfer protocols such as Bluetooth and other options built into them. Data storage technologies such as micro SD cards have further augmented the capacities of these phones. The windows of many of the media outlets display smart phones, mainly local and non branded varieties, with these features for just Rs. 2000 or even less. The availability of mobile packet data technology has further connected smart phone users to the Internet at a very small cost compared to broadband. Today in India, almost all telecom service providers offer mobile data packages for subscribers starting from a minimal price of Rs. 10 or even less. Parallel to these developments, all forms of media content are converging due to digitization. As multimedia digital devices, mobile phones have opened up a range of possibilities for people whose experience of digital was very limited before the arrival of these multifunctional gadgets. They have given people from all social strata an unprecedented access to all kinds of media content and have allowed them to interact with media content in multiple ways.

This project tries to understand the changing socio dynamics of access to media content in India with the spread of mobile phones, and intends to trace the new techno social networks of users and other actors that form to gain such access. The research focus will be on users and user groups with limited technological means and access (such as security guards, auto drivers and vegetable vendors etc). The study will take place in Bangalore and small towns close by for the sake of convenience. These places are just anchoring points which help me access the kind of user groups I want to study. The socio technical user networks I am planning to trace may also be found across Indian cities and towns. Unlike the tech savvy power users who are equipped with high end computing gadgets and are multiply connected through high speed broadband, peer to peer networks and social media networks that are used extensively to source, circulate and share media content, most of the users that I am talking about in this project have experienced digital mainly through mobile phones (leapfrogging computers). Their access to the Internet, albeit irregular and infrequent, is mainly via mobile phones (packet data). Consumption and circulation of media content amongst these users occur largely offline and outside the social media and other platforms erected by the informational corporate as well as tech savvy power user communities. New modes of trading media content have emerged in response to the needs of these sets of users.

The nature of the work will be empirical and qualitative, and I will use ethnographic methods to collect data on practices of media consumption happening via mobile phones and peripheral technologies in the city of Bangalore and the small towns nearby. The research strategy is to start through known users gathering information about their specific practices, and use the leads they give to trace the larger socio economic networks that are shaping around these new practices. The primary data will comprise of interviews with users, documentation of the media infrastructure that facilitates and enables this kind of content consumption, information on media outlets and market places which users visit to source and exchange content. I might supplement the above sources with the available quantitative market data if there is a requirement.

In the posts that follow, I will be writing about the changing media market scenario in the city of Bangalore, the ubiquitous presence and proliferation of mobile phone accessories and services shops in Indian cities and towns, and changing modes of media consumption as captured from  users’ vantage point.

Looking forward to your feedback as well your inputs that will help me build this project.

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Published on: June 23, 2014


  • iona fergusson:

    Dear Rashmi
    I read your project with interest. I have a question regarding the scope of the research that you are undertaking. I am currently an MA student of the history and critical theory of photography at Sotheby’s Institute in London. My field of interest focusses on photography and the representation of gender, class and sexuality in contemporary India. It strikes me that mobile phones with their digital imaging capabilities and use by a very broad cross section of the population have the potential to revolutionise how women and young girls perceive and represent themselves and advance a feminist agenda. Is this an area that your research will cover? You do not mention it explicitly but I would be interested to hear your views. Kind regards Iona Fergusson

    • Dear Iona
      I am not particularly looking at women and young girls and their phone usage to advance specific political agendas. My focus is on users with limited technological access and economic means, and I will look at women only as part of this focus group. I am speaking to women who mainly work informal sector. Even there I am looking at media consumption and the modes of circulation of content, not technologically mediated movements. But I will be happy to share with you any information that I might get on the issue you are looking at.

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