March 26, 2012

The New Love of India's Slum: Mobile Internet!

The low income youth have taken enthusiastically to the mobile internet. Internet is viewed not simply as a resource to be acted upon but one with consequences for everyday behaviors. A recent survey by Microsoft Research India revealed that Mobile internet is used for entertainment by teenagers in a slum in Hyderabad.

The survey captured the rich experience of technology in the everyday life of poor urban youth. It also brought to fore, if certain needs, like good health, education and stable employment are more fundamental than other needs, such as social interaction, entertainment or religion for positive development impact.

The survey was conducted among 20 randomly selected teenagers living in Hafeezpet in Hyderabad between the ages of 15-19. Hafeezpet was chosen for the survey for two reasons: one, as it fits to a typical unauthorized and informal urban settlement referred to as slums; second, due to its proximity to the vast public infrastructures in the IT hub of Hyderabad, a growing global IT city of India.

As the mobile internet infused into Hafeezpet through teen adoption and as more joined the hub of users, it transformed into a viral obsessive activity. Indeed, the presence of hubs in street corners and mobile stores throughout the neighborhood that made it clear that the internet is not only a mobile but an interactional social platform

Entertainment usages make up a significant portion of everyday internet use, transforming the technology experience of users that have had no previous experience with the internet. At the time of the research, twelve out of twenty profiled teenagers were using the internet on their mobile phones and the remaining eight teens occasionally accessed the internet on a borrowed phone in their schools, at cyber cafĂ© or at a friend‘s home. None had a technical understanding of the internet but knew a few of the things it could enable them to do. For most, the internet was a pathway to games, music and video, driving behaviors to search, browse and identify content on the web.

These young Internet users were non-elite, marginally employed and with a limited education that they struggled to obtain and leverage in the down-market environment of an urban slum. The ubiquity of mobile internet services and its reasonably priced, pay-per-use access, offered a new capacity to manage and monitor expense and use.

The study further threw light on the ways in which an internet resource is managed, used and integrated into the routines of everyday life among underprivileged teenagers and to understand how Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools are used

A number of teenagers offered consistent pictures of how they fit the internet into their lives, and what they gained as a result of these practices. Many described straightforward sets of functions that the internet allowed them to carry out, not just as a technical tool but as a social tool that enabled talking to friends, interacting with other people, chatting with friends/family, listening to music, playing games, watching movies and video clips; and having fun sharing unique experiences fashioned by this new entity called internet.

While the teenagers spoke of using technologies as a means of finding comfort, a way of managing and building personal technology infrastructures as an important element in conducting their own lives, they termed it as ‘Doing the internet’. It included gaming, audio-visual content viewing, download, and other non-instrumental uses of technology

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