Sunday, April 12, 2015

Excited to be an ITS Global Fellow in Rio this July!

I have been working for over a decade on the intersection of new communication technologies, social activism, the public sphere and policy. While I have much fieldwork experience in India in this area, I would like to gain a sustained comparative perspective with another emerging market to extend critical understandings across a wider cultural context.

Early last year, I initiated a small comparative project on perspectives on privacy among youth from the slums in Hyderabad,India with youth in favelas in Belo Horizonte and Rio, Brazil. Given that much scholarship on digital privacy pertains to concerns in the West, I saw this as an opportunity to delve into an underrepresented context for a more cross-cultural and transnational dialogue on privacy. Besides, our understandings on ‘digital privacy’ need to go beyond the online realm, and explore the diverse social norms and spheres these private behaviors inhabit.


While fieldwork continues in these two contexts through research assistants and guided by excellent local mentors (Nimmi Rangaswamy in India and Laura Scheiber in Brazil), I recognized the need to immerse myself further into the working dynamics within the Brazilian and ICT policy context so as to serve as an effective project leader. As luck would have it, The Institute of Technology and Society put out their annual call for Fellows for 2015 offering,

"...an intensive 4-week program for our fellows, which includes visits to the biggest technology companies operating in Brazil, the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) and visits to São Paulo and Brasília, including representatives from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Culture and Congressmen who are advocating for policies related to internet and technology."

Now that would be perfect for me to gain an overview of the Brazilian context regarding internet usage, privacy and ICT policy!

Dot Com MantraFortunately, I was selected as one of the six fellows for this year to go there! This serves as an ideal and timely opportunity to create new and long term collaborations and future publications. For years now I have been approaching this area from simultaneously a policy and grassroots practice angle. For instance, my first book in 2010, ‘Dot Com Mantra: Social computingin the Central Himalayas,’ juxtaposed social practices with new technologies in rural Himalayas with technology policy in India regarding e-health, e-agriculture and e-learning initiatives. Since then, I have written extensively on democratic aspirations and collective participation through social media across cultures, manifesting in constructs such as the digital commons or what I term as the ‘leisure commons’ and the ‘cultural commons’ (e.g. see my 2014 book on the ‘Leisure Commons: A spatial history of web 2.0’).

However, what continues to be amiss is more critical and empirical work on how effective collective governance is pioneered, managed and sustained via digital platforms across cultures and contexts, with particular attention to emerging economies in the global south. Brazil is an excellent context to explore such an undertaking given its high connectivity and usage of social media, controversies on apps like Secret and wide socio-economic and cultural diversity.

Very much looking forward to meeting the ITS Team, my co-fellows and experiencing Brazil for the first time!
 

Interview with Deutsche Welle's on mobile-technology and education in Africa

I was recently interviewed by Deutsche Welle on the hype around mobile-technology and education in Africa for the article below:

Why a mobile-technology revolution needs teachers
Mobile tech is revolutionizing banking and farming in Africa. But when it comes to education, it's increasing the gap between rural and urban communities. The solution to this dilemma may surprise you...[read the rest here ]

Thursday, April 2, 2015

New Publication out on Digital Leisure and Slums of Urban India

Nimmi Rangaswamy from Xerox Research Labs in India and I have been working for some years now on this theme and topic of digital leisure in the global South. We have been arguing for a shift in perspective on internet behavior of emerging market consumers, particularly those who are marginalized socio-economically. Instead of looking at their behavior through a mainly utilitarian lens, we argue that even (or arguably especially) the poor engage with new technologies for more social, playful and entertainment ends. 

Here is our paper published by the International Journal of Cultural Studies that substantiates this argument with fieldwork data in urban slums of India, validating our call for a new approach in examining digital practices among these 'newbie' consumers of the global south. 

The abstract for this paper is as follows: 
The wild and the everyday point at once to twinned aspects of life and, in this article, to a technological imaginary drawing upon the use of the mobile internet in urban slums of India. The article responds to the rather untethered way, from the point of view of state regulation, in which the telecom market in India has devolved to include poor populations, stoking a repertoire of unconventional daily use of the internet by youth living in slums. This article serves to locate the ‘wild and everyday’ as a specific sociocultural space in relation to use of mobile Facebook among young populations invisible to mainstream research on internet and culture. While development, as conventionally understood, is not focused on purposive outcomes of digital leisure practice (romance, play, entertainment), we argue that online engagements such as these are powerful precursors to ecologies of learning, reconstituting our understandings of global and mobile internet practice.