Mobile phone use among the residents of Indian urban slums

At the Mobile App Developers Network meeting on May 25th we heard an interesting presentation from Abhigyan Singh on the use of the mobile phone in the developing world.

Here is Abhi’s own description of his MA thesis that he recently completed at the Aalto University School of Art and Design, Department of Media: ”The thesis discusses the existing practices of mobile phone’s use amongst the residents of Indian urban slums, identifies the ‘Human Nodes’ in community communication at Indian urban slums, presents design opportunities and challenges for community communication services for residents of Indian urban slums, and proposes a design concept called as ‘Asynchronous Voice based Community Communication Service’ for residents of Indian urban slums.”

India provides a very interesting context for study on mobile communication. Currently there are 545 million users in India, and it is the fastest growing mobile use country, the user base growing 35-40 % per year. In addition, a mobile phone is often shared within the whole family, as one family member might hold it for two days at a time.

Abhi presented how quite basic mobile phones are used in creative ways, for example communicating with voice files in an asynchronous manner. Asynchronous voice suites the social context in the Indian slums best, e.g. for reasons related to illiteracy. This type of voice communication could also be used in Finland among the elderly people, who might have problems reading the small letters on the mobile screen, and thus do not prefer the asynchronous text messaging.

Among other uses that Abhi talked about were the clever use of calling and disconnecting a call , i.e. a grammar of missed calls, sort of a Morse code. It was also interesting how shopkeepers act as human nodes in mobile communication. Anyway, the general idea is that apps for smart phones do not present the only creative edge in mobile phone use.

Abhi’s slides are available as a PDF file at http://mediafactory.aalto.fi/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/media_factory_presentation_abhigyan.pdf

In addition, Kurt Linderoos broadcasted the meeting using Bambuser http://bambuser.com/channel/personaleu/broadcast/777141There you can follow also the discussion we had during and after Abhi’s presentation.