2 Comments

  • Dear Sandeep,

    I find your work very interesting. Your findings in rural areas on mobile phone usage and the social entities that have emerged in relation to such usage intersects with my findings in urban areas and small towns. The most interesting takeaway from your work that directly feeds into mine is mobile phone shops. It seems that these shops are playing similar roles everywhere in India. I have also noticed that shopkeepers of mobile phone shops and other users who gather at such shops develop a sort of camaraderie over a period of time and instruct each other various functionalities and uses of their devices. These shops also act as ‘addas’ for different kinds of tech related knowledge exchanges. As you rightly point out, the uses they find of their devices at such shops, and the skills they learn are not always in conjunction with the state imagination of skills and knowledge constituting digital literacy. This is the point at which my project is also situated. Though my analytical frame is not ‘digital divide’ I feel we are trying to understand an emergent social reality in its urban and rural variants through slightly different lenses. My work is an attempt to investigate and understand creative media consumption practices mainly via mobile phones.

    I would also like to know more from you about the gendered nature of these shops. Do women come to such shops and participate? What is nature of conversations at such shops? What are they about? Are they around songs, movies and some popular videos? What is the most common purpose (that you can cull out of your observations) of visiting these shops?

    Looking forward to your next post.

  • Dear Rashmi,

    Thank you so much for the comment.

    Yes, I agree with you on the point of resonances in our findings. I also find your project extremely interesting. There are certain similarities in the way the mobile phone shops work, however, I would like to add a caveat that the above description of mobile shops is in a way specific to Rampur. There is an interesting socio-geography to these mobile phone shops in rural areas, which I’ve come to observe during my travels and exploratory fieldwork in other villages.

    As you might know, these shops have emerged from the retail network of FMCG, esp in rural areas. So, the villages which had prominent ‘bazaars’ — mostly the ones which are on or nearby important highway routes or are junction villages for nearby villages, have many such shops but the remote or smaller villages have at max a shop with recharge facilities. For eg. I went to 6 small villages in the Rampur tehsil, none of them had a ‘mobile shop’ in strict sense of the term. They had mostly general stores which provided mobile recharge — and they didn’t show the kind of ‘social ambiance’ I have mentioned in the article. Nonetheless, the mobile phone usage is flourishing in these villages as well.

    Also, in my second field site – Chandpur – the digital literacy program is a big hit, going only by the numbers of students who have completed the course, still the village has just one recharge shop! I was quite surprised to see that there is no real link between the ecosystems of telecentre and mobile shops.

    Coming to the point of gendered access to these shops. Yes, there is a very visible co-relation here. Female customers and visitors at these shops are very less in number as compared to males. In Rampur, the shops are distributed throughout the main road which runs almost through the village. Most of the female customers, visit only the shops which are in the main market area near the bus stop. They, especially the school going girls, visit the shops in groups. Also, it is very rare to see a female buy or sell a phone at any of these shops in Rampur on her own. Other than the usual patriarchal reasons, I think, the record keeping process at the mobile shops in which they note down the mobile numbers of customers could be strong discouraging factor.

    The most common purpose to visit these shops is to get a frugal prepaid recharge. The nature of the conversations at these shops is fairly casual, as I’ve mentioned in the article. The topics discussed there vary from weather to politics and from bhajans to Honey Singh! The shops are definitely important centres of information access.

    Please let me know if you require more details.

    Regards,
    Sandeep

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