Shared Use of New Media in Urban Lower Middle-Income Households in India




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Shared Use of New Media in Urban Lower Middle-Income Households in India

ABSTRACT


In developed Western countries and Japan, new media are characterized by multiplicity, individualization and personalization. In urban lower middle-income households in India, new media are moving towards multiplicity, but continue to be shared. We draw on a qualitative study of the use of the television and mobile phones among lower middle-income households in Mumbai and Dharamshala in India. Most households we studied have one TV, space being the major constraint in Mumbai. The TV is becoming multiple (but not individually owned) if there is space and the income to address generational differences in viewing. Households with mobile phones are likely to have more than one mobile phone. The mobile phone is often individually owned but jointly used, reflecting the norms of shared use in Indian households.

Keywords

India, television, mobile phone, new media, shared use, lower middle-income households


1. INTRODUCTION

New media are distinguished by a significant multiplication of personally owned media. Moreover, both old and new media are diversifying in form and content (Livingstone, 1999) facilitating ‘the broader Western trend towards individualization’ (p. 62). The individualization of personally owned media is most clearly seen with music and film, particularly with the mobile phone and iPod. The mobile phone in Japan the keitai is personal, portable and intimate (Ito et al., 2005). This multiplicity and personalization results in new media becoming something that is taken for granted and ‘banal’ (Lievrouw, 2004).

The analysis of new media, particularly that of the mobile phone, draws mainly on research in the last decade in the European context and Japan (Livingstone, 2002, Lacohee et al., 2003, Ito et al., 2005, Plant, 2000, Nyíri, 2003, Katz and Aakhus, 2002). The European studies most often adopt a cross-national perspective. As Livingstone (Livingstone, 2003) says, globalization makes it difficult not to do cross-national research. The other approach, as illustrated in the most recent studies of the Japanese mobile phone is to examine differences in use between different groups in Japan (Ito et al., 2005). This approach highlights differences between the use of mobile phones by the young, business persons and mothers within a country (Lacohee et al., 2003).

There is an emerging body of work on the use of the mobile phone in developing countries. Donner has reviewed research on the mobile phone in developing countries (Donner, 2005, June 7-8). This research shows there are important similarities in the use of the mobile phone across all countries. As Plant says (Plant, 2000), the mobile phone has ‘extensive implications for the cultures and societies in which it is used’ (p. 3). Young people are enthusiastic users of the mobile phone, communicating constantly, and scheduling on the move. Young people use texting, though the proportion of text messages to voice calls differs. Mobile phones are also seen as status markers and fashion items (Haddon, 2004, Özcan and Koçak, 2003, Pertierra, 2005). For the most part, the communication is with a select group of friends and family. There is no consensus as to whether the use of the mobile phone is leading to a dilution or a strengthening of the relationship of children and parents (Lacohee et al., 2003, Matsuda, 2005b). However using the mobile to connect with ‘intimate strangers’ and ‘textmates’ has also become a feature of use in Japan and Philippines (Paragas, 2005, Pertierra, 2005, Ellwood-Clayton, 2003, Ishii, 2004, Ito, 2005, Matsuda, 2005a).

Other important differences of use that have emerged relate to the different social norms about the use of the mobile phone in public places (Geser, 2004, Haddon, 2004, Plant, 2000); and the willingness to be contacted (Haddon, 2004). In the Philippines mobile phones enable an “absent presence” for overseas Filipinas (Pertierra, 2005, Paragas, 2005).

Sharing the mobile phone is an emerging theme. It is not as yet the subject of much empirical study, theoretical reflection or design. Mobile phones are often shared in developing countries, instead of being individual, personal communication devices as in Europe and Japan. As noted in the Information Economy Report (2005) (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, 2005)

…in developing countries a single mobile phone is frequently shared by several people, particularly in poor, rural communities, and people at all income levels are able to access mobile services either through owning a phone or using someone else's. In India, for example, drivers pedal rickshaws equipped with mobile phones by a national mobile phone company throughout the state of Rajasthan offering mobile phone services for a fee (p. 12)

The leasing of mobile phones in the villages of Bangladesh by Grameen Bank is based on shared use (Bayes et al., 1999). A 2004 study of rural municipalities in the Philippines found that cell phones were often shared within the household. Fifteen per cent of the cell phones were family owned but 62 per cent allowed others in the household to receive and respond to messages (Pertierra, 2005).

The sharing of mobile phones is common in Africa (Vodafone, 2005). In Rwanda as Donner notes (Donner, 2005):

…in Africa, as elsewhere in the developing world, handsets often pull double-duty, used by multiple family members, shared among friends (perhaps by swapping SIM cards in and out), or perhaps by a whole set of users in a village or neighborhood. Across the region, many people make their living by selling individual calls on handsets. These micro-entrepreneurs play an important function in extending connectivity to people who can not afford their own handset, or who might only require an occasional call (p. 2).

Sharing of mobile phones draws on a long tradition of shared, public access to communication in developing countries. Universal access as opposed to universal service is seen in terms of providing a public shared communication device for a designated area. In India, the 1999 Telecom policy envisages providing telephones on demand in urban and rural areas. An important focus of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, 2004) is to ‘provide voice and low speed data service to the balance 2.9 lakh (290,000) uncovered villages in the country by the year 2002’ (p. 11).

The paucity of empirical studies of the sharing of the mobile phone means there are many unaddressed issues. What does the sharing of the mobile phone say about family connectedness, youth culture and privacy? Is this sharing a temporary phenomenon that will disappear once every household has a functioning mobile phone? Does the sharing of the mobile phone question the individualization of new media?

Could the shared use of an individually owned mobile phone reflect Hofstede’s classification of differences between cultures (Hofstede, 1997), with India, Sri Lanka, Philippines and countries in Africa belonging to the collective rather the individualistic side of the dichotomy? This explanation can only be used cautiously and with caveats, for mobile phones in Japan and China are personal, despite the normative primacy of the group over the individual. In China, the mobile phone has become a marker of consumer individualism, opening up a playful space for comment and humour between the state and individuals. Yu notes (Yu, 2004) the mobile phone

…allows privatized and mobile communications based on personal choices and individual pleasures. As such, the mobile phone has become the technology of privatized and individualized networking of our age, par excellence (p. 33).

In this paper we explore some of these issues in greater detail. We present data from qualitative studies in Mumbai and Dharamshala in India focusing on the ownership and use of the television and mobile phone among lower middle income households. We chose this group of households for they are numerous, present a large market and yet are little studied. These households lie above the digital divide in that they are able to purchase and use some new media. However, their patterns of use, we suspect, are different from those of upper middle income households. They thus present a distinctive pattern of urban media use, one that has not been extensively studied.

We did not study the PC and the Internet, for these remain aspirational technologies for lower middle income households. We also did not study the radio, for we were seduced by its apparent invisibility. The radio has been bundled together with other music systems. Moreover, many households get their music primarily via the TV. However the emergence of the FM radio and its different patterns of use, makes it a fertile field of further study.

In the second section we discuss how we conducted the study, highlighting the strengths and gaps in our use of focus groups, open-ended interviews, family case studies, and participant observation. In the third section, we focus on the television, concluding that television is the one new medium that is becoming multiple in the lower middle income households. We emphasize the role of teenagers and the joint family in decisions about a second TV, within the general framework of parents’ views about the importance of TV and childhood. In the fourth section, we discuss the mobile phone. The divide is between households that have a mobile phone and those that do not. Households with a mobile phone are likely to have more than one, though all may not be functioning. The mobile phone is individually owned but is shared at times. It is with the mobile phone that the tussle between individual ownership and shared use of new media is most visible.

2. METHODOLOGY


We conducted a qualitative study of lower middle income households in Mumbai and Dharamshala between May and December 2005. We defined the lower middle income households as those that had a monthly household income of between INR 9,000 and INR 30,000 ($US190 - $US649). Mumbai is India’s largest metropolitan city with 16.4 million people (Census of India Office of the Registrar General India, 2001), whereas Dharamshala is a Himalayan town with a population of 19,124 in 2001.

The initial thrust of the project in Mumbai was a study of broad consumption patterns of the urban lower to middle income households with a particular focus on information and communication technologies (ICTs). In Dharamshala the emphasis was on the sharing of mobile phones. This in turn led us to search for similar patterns in the Mumbai data, enabling us to give a picture drawn from a large metropolitan city and a small town.

We conducted a ‘grounded’ study in that there is a fit between data and emerging theory, rather than a testing of hypotheses (Glaser and Strauss, 1967). We used multiple ways of collecting data through focus groups, open ended interviews, family case studies and participant observation. We draw on the focus groups for a general understanding of the use and consumption of new media. For the detailed discussion of new media in India, we draw on the richer open-ended interviews, family studies and participant observation.

In order to ensure rigour, we broadly coded the data, and then organized the data into matrices to check emerging themes in a transparent manner. We then identified negative cases so that we could ensure the fit between data and theory. As Morse and Richards (Morse and Richards, 2002) say, ‘The key to rigorous qualitative inquiry is the researcher's ability … of being constantly aware and constantly asking analytic questions of data, which, in turn, constantly address the questions asked’ (p. 170).


2.1 Sample

The study is in two parts. In Mumbai, the study covered 112 persons from 71 households - six focus groups (49 participants from 49 households) seven open ended interviews (seven persons from seven households) and 15 family case studies (56 persons from 15 households).

The participants in the focus groups and open-ended interviews in Mumbai belonged to the lower middle class with a monthly household income ranging from INR9,000- INR25,000 ($US190- $US530). Only two households had a monthly income of INR 30,000 ($US650). The families in the 15 case studies had a lower monthly household income ranging from INR 9,000 to INR22, 000 ($US190 - $US464). Other socio-economic characteristics of the Mumbai sample were:


  • Two generation nuclear households dominated (54) with the others being various combinations of extended households (17);

  • Nearly all those in the focus groups and open- ended interviews were married with children (52 of 56). Two participants were married but with no children, two were not married;

  • There were 31 women and 25 men in the focus groups and open-ended interviews. Eight of the 31 women were in paid work.

  • The majority owned their homes through inheritance or parental support.

  • Two of the 56 persons in the focus groups and open ended interviews had post graduate degrees. The remaining 54 were evenly divided between high school graduates and a BA degree.

In Mumbai, access to the focus group participants was through a recruiting company. People involved in the open-ended interviews and family case studies were accessed through the snowball method and formal recruiting. In the small town of Dharamshala, the research drew upon participant observation with a particular focus on mobile phone ownership and usage.

Participant observation in Dharamshala was based on an 11 year relationship with friendship and neighbourhood groups. This study covers 16 persons from seven households.



  • Three of the seven households had a monthly household income of between INR 7,000 – INR 15,000 ($US 148 – $US 317). One household had an estimated income of under INR 5,000 while another would likely have more than INR50,000 a month. It was not possible to estimate the income accurately for the other two households because their income depended on variable business cash flow.

  • Four of the seven households lived in their ancestral homes. One had land in Dharamshala to construct a home, whereas the ancestral home of another was outside Dharamshala. One household did not have land or an ancestral home.

  • There were seven males and nine females, including two boys and one girl under the age of 18.

3.

4. THE SHARED MOBILE PHONE EMERGING MULTIPLICITY OF THE TV IN THE HOUSEHOLD

Television is central in the Indian lower middle-income households in towns and cities. It is central in terms of its positioning in the ‘drawing room’ and central for family entertainment. Television stands out amongst the domestic information and communication technologies (ICTs) in our sample, in that it is becoming multiple even with the lower middle-income households. Space and income are the main limiting constraints.

Our data show that most of the households of the low middle-income group we studied in Mumbai have a single TV (31 of the 49 households for which we have data according to rooms in the house and household composition). There were two important triggers for a multiple TV – having teenagers and being part of an extended household. Having teenagers in an extended household in our sample ensured there would be a second TV. However (see Table 1) teenagers or an extended household by themselves were not sufficient to account for multiple TVs. There were six nuclear households with teenagers that did not have a second TV. Conversely there were seven extended households without teenagers that had multiple TVs.

The second TV is more likely to be bought when parents have a positive view of their children’s freedom to watch TV of their choice. It also helps when the second new TV is seen as a public display of the household’s increased status.

Household composition

Single TV

Two TVs

Three TVs

Multiple room house

19

17

1

Nuclear households (17 hh)

10

7




With teenagers (11 hh)

6

5




Without teenagers (6hh)

4

2




Extended household (20hh)

9

10

1

With teenagers (3 hh)

-

3




Without teenagers(17 hh)

9

7

1

Table 1: Household composition and multiple TVs (N= 37 multiple room houses)

3.1 One TV is a binding force for the family

Twelve of the 49 households in Mumbai were single room households. They were nuclear households. A one room house – the living room is also the bedroom – does not have an extra TV. There were no exceptions. Of the 37 households with multiple rooms, 19 had only one TV.

There were two themes running through people’s justification for one TV in multiple room households. The first revolved around the centrality of the TV – that the single TV is a binding force for the family. Ajitab1 (35) a businessman living in an extended household says ‘What’s the use of a second TV? In any case, the only time the whole family is together is in front of the TV. If we put separate TVs in each bedroom, we may not meet at all!’

The Desai family also see TV as a binding force as they enjoy the same set of shows and characters. The mother’s love for a particularly strong woman character in a hugely popular soap is echoed by her young daughters aged 12 and 15. The mother approves of the fact that her daughters watch this show with her, ‘It has lessons that will help them when they get married’.

Households that feel strongly about the single TV, accommodate the different needs within the household via rationing different viewing times. Vandita (36) a working woman and mother of two, says ,

Seven thirty pm to 10 pm is my time. The kids (aged 10 and 3) are not even allowed to watch their cartoons once I am home. They finish their quota before I come home. I need this stress buster after a hard day’s work.

The second theme is that the single TV allows parents to oversee what the children are watching, thus controlling time, expenditure and aspirations. Anjana, 43, an architect and a mother of two sons, one of whom is a teenager, is adamantly against a second TV even when they move to a bigger flat. She says even the single TV was causing enough disruption in her son’s life. She says, ‘….. he is so into film music and dance that he wants to be a Bollywood choreographer…’

Suresh, 39, a small entrepreneur, father of a 16 year old son, says ‘Already, it is difficult to keep the child away from the PC (he is in 10th grade). Another TV will make it more difficult.’ Sadha, 42, mother of a 19 year old son, says she indulges him but within limits. ‘…. Yeh haram ka paisa nahin (it is not illegitimate money), that you can throw it away unreasonably’.


3.2 Multiple TVs, multiple choice

Multiple TVs allow choice, catering to the different tastes of members of an extended family, particularly when there are teenagers. A TV is also seen as a public status symbol to be displayed in the public spaces of the home.

Of the 14 multiple room households with teenagers (see Table 1), eight households have a second TV. Allowing two TVs goes with the view that parents have to prevent being seen as always negative or “out of sync” Bhavna, 43, mother of two teenage boys, though concerned about the obsessive appeal of TV, says, ‘You can’t be always negative to your children. You have to be positive sometimes. …. At some stage even we have to adjust …We need to take into account their desires…’

Not every parent feels so torn. Nanma, 35-43, with pre-teen and teen age children says, ‘I feel they should watch TV so that they feel relaxed… The advantage is that …we are able to have more knowledge about every day events and the goings on’. Parmit, 39, a Sikh woman with one son and daughter (aged 14 and 12), says,

Yes I have two TVs because when my husband comes at night, the children don’t allow him to watch the news. So he placed the old TV in their room and asked them to watch whatever they want on their TV. We are four people. Even then we have two TVs.
When teenagers are present in an extended household, then the push for choice becomes more intense. Meghna, a 40 year old woman points out the importance of the second TV in her joint household, saying ‘My brother-in-law is a young boy. He may have his own interests. Why should he sit and watch boring serials with me?"’

Angad (32), a taxi driver, bought the second TV to upgrade the look of the living room. They kept the new Flat TV in the living room. “It’s so beautiful, it must be kept where people can see it, right?” says his wife. Angad also wanted a TV in his own bedroom so that his wife and child could watch their own choice of shows (which were different from his mother’s). He says, ‘My parents only follow the Gurbani (hold readings) broadcast from the Golden Temple twice a day and news in Punjabi. They are growing old and don’t want to be disturbed with noise the whole day.’ He himself can then watch his own shows even at odd hours when he has late night pick-ups and returns, without disturbing the rest of the household.


3.3 The Third Television: Karishma’s story

The television has truly gone multiple in Karishma’s house. It is an extended household, but with no teenage children. Her story shows that two TVs allowed for personal choices. The third one was for display and family viewing.

Karishma, 30, a home maker, mother of a four year old son, lives with her in-laws and husband who works at the managerial level in a private bank. They have three TVs and live in a three room house. There is a TV in each of the two bedrooms, and the recent third TV is in the living room/hall.

The first TV was always kept in the living room. This was shifted into the parents-in-law’s bedroom when the second TV was bought after Karishma’s marriage. Karishma says,

I and my husband love watching English movies on Star Movies. My in-laws are old people. It gets very awkward to watch (these movies) in their presence. Also, it does not look nice to watch all those scenes in front of them – there must be some respect for their age. So, we bought another TV, which we could keep in our bedroom and watch whatever we wanted without causing any embarrassment. …After that, we shifted the TV in the hall to their bedroom so that they too can watch whatever they want in their own private bedroom. It did not look nice that we younger people watched in our bedroom and they had to come out to the hall.

Finally, we bought the third TV (just last year) to keep in the hall. There must be a TV in the hall… And it is fancier – bigger and a flat screen.

Karishma does not have the same reservations about watching Star Movies in the presence of their four year old son. She says, the movies ‘…will only become bolder by the time he grows up… it is better that he be comfortable with such things’

Karishma and her husband decided to go for a better-looking, bigger TV for the living room because they were getting a better deal. This bigger TV cost them less than their second 21 inches non-flat TV. It also allows for some family viewing. Karishma says,


I don’t sit in the bedroom the whole day. I have work all over the house. So in the daytime, I work with the TV in the hall turned on. That way, I can do both – work and watch. My mother-in-law has her own choices – she loves all the K-serials 2 – she watches them in the evening and then again catches the re-runs in the afternoon. I watch other shows – news or some other show that my husband or son may want to watch in the evening. I watch the K-serials in the daytime – with my mother-in-law in the TV kept in the hall.

The mobile phone is one of the most visible new media in India. One often hears people say ‘Everybody has a mobile phone’. Though this is not true in terms of penetration rates, the perception is important that the mobile phone has become universal. As of November 2005, India had 76 million mobile subscribers, according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) (The Associated Press, 2006, Jan 6). Mobile penetration in India is five percent. This is increasing, as two million new subscribers are added every month (Tegic Communications, 2005, Dec 1).

Our sample reflects the variation between a large city and a small town. In Dharamshala, nearly half of our sample households (3 of 7) did not have a mobile phone. One household was thinking of acquiring it, particularly for share trading during office hours. In another household, one person had a mobile phone but gave it up because it was expensive. The third household is not contemplating a mobile phone because it is too expensive and the fixed line phone is sufficient.

In the Mumbai sample, only four of the 49 households for which we have mobile phone data, did not have a mobile phone. Of the 45 households that had mobile phones, 26 had multiple mobile phones, whereas 19 households had single mobile phones. The multiplicity of the mobile is being fuelled by demand from teenagers who see it as a personal communication device and status symbol. As with the TV, multiple mobile phones also reflect the way parents view independent connections for their children.

The mobile phone in lower income households in Mumbai is still male and primarily a business communication device. Men often share the mobile phone with their wives or mothers, as a larger percentage of men have mobile phones compared with women. In our Mumbai sample, of the19 single mobile phone households, 17 belonged to the men. As one of the focus group participants in Mumbai said, ‘A mobile phone is for those who are mobile.’ Men and women viewed the mobile phone as a business tool and to keep in touch with family. In Mumbai and Dharamshala, both men and women felt that housewives did not need mobile phones as long as they could make and receive calls at home. The gender divide for mobile phones disappears for young men and women (Also see (Geser, 2004)).

The mobile phone reflects the tension between individual and shared use. Unlike the TV, when teenagers and young adults want a mobile phone, they often buy it from their own earnings. There is a greater emphasis on the display value of the new up to date mobile phone for the individual, rather than just a need for its functionality. As in other countries, the mobile phone in Dharamshala and Mumbai has become a symbol of moving ahead and style, particularly for the young. The difference is that despite this individualization, it is not unusual for the mobile phone to be shared within the family. There are consequent implications for privacy, identity and communication.

The shared use of the mobile phone was at the forefront of the Dharamshala study. The mobile phone was shared in all the four households that have a mobile phone, between some members of the family. Only one person could not consider sharing his phone, because his business was dependent on it. Even in the household that was thinking of acquiring a phone, the school going daughter had already announced she would use her father’s phone.

The phone was shared in different ways – one phone but two SIMs; two phones but one SIM; or the appropriation of the phone without paying. The disaggregation of the phone from the SIM (Lacohee et al., 2003) is an important element of sharing. Below we give some vignettes from our data in Dharamshala. The sharing was between siblings, between father and daughter, and between extended kin.


4.1 Have SIM, have Mobile


Chandan3 is a well to do trader (likely to have more than INR20,000 monthly household income), in his 50s, with important positions in the community. Waiting for his mother to finish his prayers, we sit around a TV showing a Hindi movie. Chandan’s two sons are also in the living room – the eldest has completed his BA, whereas the younger one is in the 12th year of school (Plus Two). Their mother is preparing the tea.

The elder son, Charan, has a five year old but updated PC with XP 2000, that he used for college assignments. He uses the Internet via his GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) enabled mobile and a Bluetooth USB on his PC. The mobile phone costs INR 9000, and is capped at INR 400 a month for unlimited and fast download. ‘I don’t do very much with it. Some P2P for songs. Some Google,’ Charan says.

This flash mobile phone is also enjoyed by his younger brother, Chetan. Schools in Dharamshala do not allow their students to use the mobile phone during school times. When Chetan goes to a party, he borrows his brother’s phone. ‘I just put in my own pre-paid SIM, and it becomes my phone,’ Chetan says. ‘My brother manages without it for that time.’

Chandan, their father, cannot contemplate offering his mobile to anybody because all his business calls come on the mobile. His wife doesn’t have one. ‘If she was working, she would have one,’ he says.


    1. Two mobiles, one SIM


Anita, 20, has a mobile but no SIM. She is in an in-between situation, for she has completed college, and does not have a current identity card to get a SIM under the new regulations introduced in 2005. So she uses her father’s mobile. Like Chandan, her father is also a trader, but is not as mobile. As his phone is with his daughter, he relies on the fixed line phone in the shop. ‘If there are messages for Papa,’ Anita says, “I ring him up and tell him this or that Uncle wants him to call.’

Anita does not openly display her father’s mobile as it is old fashioned and clunky. Amar, 15, also uses his father’s/sister’s phone. He says, ‘I don’t need it much. I can’t use it in school. It isn’t as if there is a party scene here. And nothing is more than 15 minutes away from home.’ When asked what if Anita’s friends ring up while he has the phone, Amar retorts, ‘So what?’ Anita agrees. ‘No,’ she says, ‘there is nothing personal about my mobile phone.’ Of course she means her father’s mobile phone. ‘It’s different in the Metro,’ she says, referring to metropolitan cities.

Their mother does not have a mobile. Her children say, ‘She doesn’t go anywhere.’ This is not strictly true. She goes to the temple, visits her friends, and is part of a monthly kitty group. But even their mother would agree that she is at home most of the time, and the fixed line phone at home does her well.

4.3 Obliged to share


Dharam bought a mobile two or three years ago – second hand for INR 2000. The new one would have cost more than INR 3000. It was in a good condition and the battery was good. Dharam is in trade with a monthly household income of about INR 7,500 a month. It is an essential business tool and all the tradesmen he knows have a mobile. They don’t borrow from each other, and if they do, it would only be for a local call. Even when he did not have a mobile, he did not borrow. However, his wife Dheera interjects that her husband lends his mobile to anyone who asks. She says,

We were going to a wedding and his cousin who was in the other car asked him for his mobile. The idea was that they could be in touch if the cars lost sight of each other, as another person in my husband’s car had a mobile. But then his cousin kept the mobile for five days and spent all the INR500 that was on the recharge card. What can one say? It was up to him to say that I have bought another recharge card. But he didn’t

Dharam says,

It happens all the time in the village. A person will say, ‘Here give me the mobile for a minute.’ They think it will only cost INR5. And before you know it, your card is empty. Now I don’t set it to Roaming when I go away to the village. With Reliance (a Provider), you have to activate the roaming. So I neither receive calls, nor have other people make calls.

At that, Dharam asks the researcher what will happen to her SIM when she leaves. He suggests she should post it to him, and he could recharge it. Maybe he could use it when he gives his mobile to someone else. That way they will have to recharge the SIM rather than use his.

4.4 Patterns of sharing


Though the shared mobile phone was not a major theme in the collection of the Mumbai data, it gives us a snapshot of the level and patterns of sharing in a metropolitan city in India. Of the 49 households, 20 households share mobile phones, that is 41 per cent of the households. Mobile phones were likely to be shared irrespective of the number of mobile phones in the household.

The mobile phone is predominantly looked upon as a cheap family communication device. Parents did not speak of the mobile as personal, except when it was a phone used for business. The image of the (immobile) land line in the drawing room as a family phone informs the usage of the mobile phone in the lower middle-income households. As Akshata, 32, says ‘The mobile in our home is the walking landline.’ She not only shares her husband’s mobile but also uses her neighbour’s as a contact number. She says, ‘In case there is any emergency, she (the neighbour) won’t mind receiving or even allowing me to make calls using it.’

The sharing can be partial. Some women use the mobile only to receive calls, rather than for making calls. With low mobile rates, the mobile phone is often cheaper than the landline and so is also used to speak to extended family outside Mumbai. The shared phone can also be earmarked to receive calls from family members overseas.

There are instances where in one household, one phone is used only by one individual, whereas the other one is shared. In the Solan Lal household, Rakshita (22) sees her mobile as her own. She makes it very clear that it is for her use only. She says, ‘I need to keep it with me all the time. Also, clients may want to call up anytime, so I have to make sure that the phone is not engaged.’ But her father, Kishna’s mobile functions as the de facto landline for the whole family.

Even when the man uses it for work and is outdoors most of the time, it tends to get picked up by members in the family once he returns home. Children may use it to play games. Some of our women respondents gave the husband’s mobile as their contact number. Savio Miranda (36) has not taken up a land line connection at all. His mobile works as the common phone number for both him and his wife. ‘Most of our calls are long distance and are all calls to our home towns. Besides, STD is cheaper on the mobile.’


Households and mobile phones

Number of households

Not shared

Shared

No mobile phone

4

NA

NA

Single mobile phone in household

19

14

5

Two mobile phones in household

16

5


11


Three mobile phones in household

10

6


4


Table 2: Sharing of mobile phones in Mumbai households (N= 49 )

Mobiles are not shared when they are used primarily for business. This is particularly true for men as they are more likely to have mobiles for business. Where a father shared a business mobile with his daughter, it was because the daughter helped him with his business. Where the woman has the mobile for work, she too does not share the mobile.


4.5 The young and the shared mobile

We define the ‘young’as unmarried children aged 12 to 26, staying with their parents. Young persons equally aspire to a phone with the latest features, as something that expresses their individual style.

Young people’s use of the mobile phone shares many of the characteristics of youth in other parts of the world (Ellwood-Clayton, 2003, Orlikowski and Iacono, 2001, Pertierra, 2005). They talked of the mobile phone as personal and an identity marker, used to communicate with friends or listen to music. Mobile phones were personally owned, often bought with their own earnings. The mobile phone is a status marker, and important for maintaining their friendship networks. Music and the camera functions are important for their status and functionality. The young people we studied in India differ from young persons studied in the West in that a young person in India is likely to share the mobile with his or her parents, more particularly with the mother. Sharing with siblings is also taken for granted.

4.5.1 To buy or not to buy


Our data in Mumbai points to the mobile phone being disputed territory between parents and young persons – if they cannot buy their own phones. It also shows how the phone has become an object of desire and status. This serves as a background for the sharing.

For some parents in Mumbai, joining college (at 16 or 17 years of age) is the trigger that declares a person is fit to own a mobile. This is not true across India for the feedback we are getting from our respondents is that in Punjab some residential colleges for women do not allow mobiles. But in Mumbai, Arvind, 35, father of two has already planned ahead for his daughter who will enter college next year, ‘We have already got a handset for our daughter. The day she joins college, we will activate it.’

Masoomi, a mother (38) of two teenagers in Mumbai, got a mobile for her daughter when she entered college. But then, the parents had to get one for the younger son as well. She says, ‘He sat on a hunger strike. He said, “if my sister can have one why can't I?"’ He carries it to school but keeps it on silent mode as his school does not allow mobile phones.

Other parents did not see the necessity of the mobile phone for their college going children. Anupama, a housewife, in her thirties, said ‘Most of the children misuse their mobile. Parents should put limit to their children’s expenses. A college student doesn’t require a mobile at such an early age.’

When asked if his eldest daughter will get a mobile, now that she will be going to college, Nishant (45) is very clear that she has no need of one, ‘Bombay has a good network of PCO’s (public call offices), so she can easily find one in case of some urgency.’ Anand (60) thinks it is more a status symbol than utility for students – ‘I won’t buy a phone for my daughter even if I can afford it.’ His wife concurs – ‘Let the children find good jobs and maybe get a phone from the office.’

There is even more debate among parents as to whether pre-teenagers should have a mobile phone. For teenagers also, a mobile phone often remains an aspiration, unless parents gift it to them. Gifts of mobile phones occur in the higher income households in our sample, those earning closer to INR 30,000 (US$ 650) a month. Young persons in households with a monthly income of INR9,000- INR25,000 ($US190- $US530), have to buy their own mobiles.

If the young persons can pay for their own mobile, they are more likely to have one. The debate is cast in terms of age and the ability to pay for the mobile, rather than gender. Sadha, 42, allows her only son to change hand sets as often as he wishes as long as he pays for these changes. She says, ‘I do not see the same hand set with him for more than three months. Let him enjoy himself as long as I am not paying for damages.’

4.5.2 Object of desire and status


The phone is avidly possessed, seen as an object of desire and a status symbol. Features like a radio, colour screens, and camera scored over other use-considerations when it came to purchasing a phone

Sonal (22), sees her mobile phone as her biggest possession. She saved up for it from her tuition earnings. Pavani, 24, a graduate, who gives private tuitions and earns Rs 5,000 a month, is saving up for a phone. She says,

I’ll feel ashamed taking out the phone in a bus where every second person has the same model. I am waiting for the time when the phone will ring in a crowd and I can proudly pick up my Nokia 6610 – the admiration from the public will be the “paisa vasool” (money well spent) moment.

Jaswant (24), with a monthly income of INR 4,500 has changed his mobile thrice in three years. The first one was a very basic Nokia 3380 gift – a hand-me-down from his brother. His last change was eight months ago – it cost him INR.8500, nearly double his monthly income, and had a colour screen and FM radio. He also liked the way this particular set looked. When we spoke with him, he was looking to change this model for a costlier and ‘more hi-tech’ handset that cost approximately INR13,000. At the time of writing, he had already made that purchase.


4.5.3 Sharing the desired object


The tension between the emotion invested in the mobile phone, contribution to purchase and the norm of sharing is such that not every young person is comfortable sharing the mobile. In the Mumbai data, nine young persons shared the mobile phone, whereas ten did not. It is interesting to note that daughters are more likely to share than the sons. Of the nine who shared, six were female and three male. The position reversed itself among the ten who did not share – three female and seven male. In Dharamshala sharing the phone is the norm, particularly between siblings. This sharing does not raise issues of privacy or identity that would be anticipated in the West.

The phone is shared when it has been bought by the parents or older sibling (6) or from the young person’s own income (3). Of the 10 who did not share, three belonged to the same family and the father had bought all of them a mobile phone. Two work late, but the other five do not want to share. Sudarshan, 19 says, “It is my mobile, and nobody uses it. My parents do not even know how to…”

Though not every young person shares the mobile phone, there is a strong norm of sharing a mobile phone in the household. Rakshita’s story in Mumbai illustrates the strength of these norms, even when there is much emotion and status associated with the mobile phone. Rakshita (22) bought her first mobile phone in 2002 while she was still in college. She had saved up for almost 10 months from the money she earned giving tuitions and bought a very basic Nokia handset which cost her about INR3000. Her parents did not like her spending so much money on the mobile but as they had no land line, she felt she needed it so that her friends or students could get in touch with her.

Rakshita took the phone with her wherever she went. It became the family phone when she was at home. Everyone could receive calls and messages but she was the only one who made outgoing calls from it. The others used a Public Call Office except in the case of an emergency.

When Rakshita’s father got a mobile in 2004, his phone became the default family phone, but Rakshita’s brother used her phone for messaging and receiving calls. He felt he could chat for a longer time with friends on his sister’s phone.

Rakshita upgraded her phone to a Nokia phone with a radio to fill up her travel time, to make an impression and felt it was an extension of her personality. Now her brother uses the radio when she is at home. It is the only radio in the house. Rakshita is saving up to buy a camera phone.

Rakshita says her family is entitled to the benefits and convenience the phone affords. She adds,

They are family – it comes naturally to share things in this unit. My brother can take my calls if I am not around. My friends cannot – they will not.


5. CONCLUSION: POLICY AND DESIGN IMPLICATIONS

Our qualitative data on the use of the TV and mobile phone in Mumbai and Dharamshala paint a picture of the use of the TV and mobile phone among the lower middle-income households. This picture is at times similar to that in other countries, particularly as it relates to young people’s desire for the mobile phone. It is a mark of status and something that reflects who they are. The mobile phone is individually owned, whether it is purchased or is a gift. But at the same time, the mobile phone is often shared in the household, more so in Dharamshala than in Mumbai. There are strong norms of sharing in the household, particularly if there is no land line, and/or there is no other mobile phone in the household. Possibly, when everybody in the household has a mobile phone, then there will not be the same emphasis on sharing of media.

Not every household in our sample had a mobile phone, but the TV was central to family life. However in considering the multiplicity of new media, it is important to consider the constraints of space and income in urban lower middle-income households. It is not possible to have multiple TVs in a one-room household in Mumbai. Even when the space is there, norms of family togetherness at times work towards a single TV. Multiple TVs are more often to be found in three generational families with teenagers. But even then, a TV in every room is not an aspiration. Unlike the mobile phone, the TV is purchased out of the family budget, rather than media that are individually owned. TVs reflect the status of the Mobile phones reflect the status of the owner rather than the household.

Empirical work that substantiates the different use of some of the new media is a step towards reconsidering some of the generalizations about the nature of new media based on European or Japanese experience. The sharing of the mobile phone takes place against a background where access to the telephone has often been public through the Public Call Office, and the Internet Café is more the norm than the individually owned PC. Universal individual or household access to new media is not even the aim of national policy. So how differently should new media be theorized, regulated and designed? This empirical work also raises questions about the connection with the mobile phone being a personal communication device, a marker of status and identity, and yet shared media within the household. Are there fewer expectations of privacy within households in India, compared to privacy in households in Europe and Japan? It is a first step towards thinking in terms of cross cultural design and working towards a multi-user mobile phone.


References




Household composition

Single TV

Two TVs

Three TVs

Multiple room house

19

17

1

Nuclear households (17 hh)

10

7




With teenagers (11 hh)

6

5




Without teenagers (6hh)

4

2




Extended household (20hh)

9

10

1

With teenagers (3 hh)

-

3




Without teenagers(17 hh)

9

7

1

Table 1: Household composition and multiple TVs (N= 37 multiple room houses)

Households and mobile phones

Number of households

Not shared

Shared

No mobile phone

4

NA

NA

Single mobile phone in household

19

14

5

Two mobile phones in household

16

5


11


Three mobile phones in household

10

6


4


Table 2: Sharing of mobile phones in Mumbai households (N= 49 )

1 All the names are pseudonyms.

2 K - serials are family sagas focussed on intra-familial relationships, the most popular being the mother-in-law daughter-in-law dynamics

3 The names are pseudonyms.




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