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Showing posts from 2019

Keynote at the DesignUp conference on 'Irrational Design'

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DesignUp, a Design-in-Tech conference in Bangalore, brought together an amazing and forward thinking group of designers, UX researchers, data scientists, policy makers, business leaders and entrepreneurs together over the course of 4 days on Nov 12-16. This year, the theme was about plurality in design. DesignUp is the largest Design & Tech event in Asia (excluding China), labelled by YourStory as the Definitive Design-in-Tech conference and listed by Quartz.com among the World's 20 most Exciting Design Events. 
I gave the keynote on the ‘Next Billion Users and Irrational Design’ that offered a new template to understanding the user behaviors and preferences of the next billion. 
After all, the failures of tech –the graveyard of apps - FB Zero, Secret and such, rests on the premise of negating the role of the cultures from below. Those at the margins of our imagination who have now become the norm – the next billion -  are pushing ahead with novel demands on interfacing, desig…

Keynote and panel discussion at Deutsche Welle in Bonn

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Brilliant experience in the last two days at Deutsche Welle (DW) at the FOME Symposium organized in Bonn on Rethinking media development - New actors, new technologies and new strategies. I gave my keynote on how the rise of the Next Billion users , low-income users in the global south coming online for the first time, is transforming the media sphere and how we need to center them in our imagination as we proceed to tackle the challenges on how to build a sustainable information ecosystem. Couple of take aways here for the field of journalism and media development when going global with these strategies:
1.  Let us not discount SMS and WhatsApp as the prime and often the sole media distribution outlet. WhatsApp and Facebook is the internet to the NBU market. We need to keep that in mind while we write content for the NBU market and how they will experience it on these devices
2. The internet is the poor person's leisure economy - thereby, for getting them interested in the media …

Re-imagining Spotify for the Next Billion Users

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It was fantastic to give a talk at Spotify in Stockholm on my book 'The Next Billion Users' 
Am a fan of this company as they really personally transformed my ways of listening and experiencing music.

It was so gratifying to be able to speak with their team on how to re-conceptualize their platform for a new market to best service them - their listening tastes, behaviors, sharing patterns, curated genres, and more.

The fact is that their business model as it stands needs some significant rethinking as they move into these new terrains and markets. Am glad to be part of this journey.

Keynote at Digital Fortress Europe in Brussels

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I delivered a keynote on 'Amplified activism from afar" in addressing border-making through social media and how diasporas can be powerful forces to contend with in the shaping of national agendas, policies and even grassroots social movements.

This was for the ECREA organized event called "Digital Fortress Europe: Exploring Boundaries between Media, Migration and Technology" held in Brussels end October.

The two-day conference served as a forum to "reflect on the relations between media, migration, and technology. These relations demand our fullest attention because they touch on the essence of what migration means in societies that are undergoing democratic challenges. Research shows that media and technologies play a vital role for people who migrate, but that the same media and technologies serve to spread xenophobia, increase societal polarization and enable elaborate surveillance possibilities. With its intensifying anti-migration populist discourses, hu…

Rockefeller Foundation Workshop on Responsible AI Futures

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The Rockefeller Foundation has committed itself to shape the design and impact of Artificial Intelligence on Society with a series of workshops and vision documents. The first in its series - 'Designing a Responsible AI Future' just took place in Bellagio Italy on Oct 9-12 ,2019. I was invited to contribute to this effort alongside technologists, thought leaders, academics, and artists, although admittedly, while diverse in their disciplines and focus, were primarily from the Anglo-Saxon region. 
So the conversation was dominated by United States concerns and issues with an emphasis on decentralization of tech, and focus on the harmful effects of fintech, facial recognition, and other innovations as a means of building a responsible AI. While undoubtedly accountability matters very much so, from a global perspective, the opportunities of AI, and the importance of convergence of diverse platforms into these hyper-ecosystems emerge from the vantage point of scarce resources and …

Keynote and Fireside chat on AI4Good at NEXT event Hamburg

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The NEXT 19 at Hamburg - what an event! Beautifully curated with the right mix of humor, creativity, seriousness and playfulness - the kind of thoughtful event required for the public to engage with important and timely subjects It was a brilliant move to connect this festival with the Reeperbahn Festival which basically mixed the crowd of tech people, creative industry folks -media, design, advertising...

I had a blast doing my keynote on my book The Next Billion Users.  The audience really engaged and I am getting really into going back and forth with them during my talks these days. I always get the surprisely reactions of how come I am so optimistic in this time of the doom and gloom of social media killing democracy, our minds, our communities and more and of course, we have been here many times before. We fall in love and we fall out of love with tech - that which we love, we fear, we loathe and then it starts all over again. Like I said at the tail end of my talk - you cannot …

Keynote alongside the legendary Jimmy Wales

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Click on the highlights of the Techfestival in Copenhagen on 7-9 September and you will see me positioned next to Jimmy Wales, the legendary founder of Wikipedia. This is such a big highlight of my career. It is such an honor to be situated alongside a person of this caliber - I continue to be in awe of how he managed to resist commercializing Wikipedia and continuing to keep it up as one of the top most loved sites around the world.

The Techfestival itself was an amazing event with a spectrum of fantastic people and even more amazingly, many with backgrounds in the humanities -literature, philosophy, the arts in general. Their backgrounds explain why this event brought sustained good conversations, thoughtful reflections and creative ideas to the fore which was not tech centric but society centric, about what it means to be meaningful, democratic, social, happy, and connected with one another - basically putting the human over tech in this conversation. I appreciated that very much …

My East Asia book tour

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The last two weeks have been thrilling! With my book being translated into Chinese, I got on the road to speak about the "The Next Billion Users"  with academics, development and tech practitioners, activists, and the lay public in Singapore, Macau, Hong Kong and Taipei. The news of the typhoons in China and Taiwan and the ongoing protests in Hong Kong did make me wonder how this would play out, adding a streak of adventure to this whole journey. But not only did everything run smoothly, but people across board were so extraordinarily kind, hospitable and generous with their time and attention that I am determined this is just my beginning with this region.

The book talks started at the launch of the Innovation lab in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore. The workshop aptly called "Interrogating Innovation"  brought together speakers from across disciplines and countries and shed light on the obsession with innovation, the implicit normative meanings…

Brainstorming at the AI & Democracy CIFAR Workshop at Microsoft Research Montreal

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I was invited to participate in the 'AI Powered Information Ecosystems & Democracy' workshop held at the Microsoft Research Lab in Montreal and sponsored by CIFAR

The premise of this workshop was to engage a "diverse groups of researchers from academia and industry with practitioners and civil society representatives, to encourage collaborations between those involved in the research and development of computations tools with those with focused expertise in policy, journalism, civil rights, and democratic values."

The basis of this workshop was to outline all the opportunities and challenges that AI-powered information ecosystems (like social media, search engines, or content-sharing platforms) have brought upon in recent years and in particular to the strengthening of our democratic institutions around the world.

It was an intense workshop where we worked in core groups on topics such as communities, elections, misinformation, and regulation and when in there,…

Talking to Tech: Keynote at EMERCE Next in Amsterdam

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Wonderful experience speaking as one of the few academics in a room full of young tech entrepreneurs at the EMERCE Next event in Amsterdam. I gave a talk based on my new book 'The Next Billion Users' published by Harvard Press earlier this year. I spoke about the myths that aid agencies and tech industries perpetuate about these new user groups based on their biased understandings of them and rooted in little empirical evidence. Worse yet, even in the face of vast evidence that contradicts these worldviews, this thinking still persists so I hope I was able to disrupt a little bit these conventional approaches. I got questions on Article 13 on copyright policies under the new GDPR which indeed is so far from the world of media piracy in developing countries. I emphasized how we need to look also at why these policies are barely enforced based on historical and unfair media business models in the global south. Other questions grappled with the ways the "West" and the …

Motivational Speaker for Gemeente Amsterdam Diversity Program

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I cannot emphasize enough how much I love Amsterdam. It really feels like home for me and that's saying a lot given that I have moved so much since I was a teenager. From India to the United States (San Francisco, New York and Boston), I finally came to the Netherlands about a decade ago. So, was really happy to get an invite from the Gemeente Amsterdam (the Amsterdam municipality) to give a motivational talk for a program they have initiated a few years ago to improve diversity and support those less represented in positions of power.

Of course, usually I associate the municipality with paying my taxes and water bills and all the tedium of city governance. Had to block that Pavlovian training temporarily as I went about participating and speaking about my life story to this wonderful group of young mentees and mentors of this diversity program.

This mentoring program is in partnership with a wonderful organization called ECHO which is an expert organization on diversity policy. I…

The Economist coverage of my Next Billion Users book

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I have been a loyal subscriber of The Economist for more than a decade. I first got introduced to it during my Masters program in International Policy at Harvard University where everyone pretty much cited it to make their argument. I am well aware of their neo-liberal bias but am always appreciative of their strong voice, international perspective, and innovative lens to very different and often hidden trends in the current societies. 
So, of course I was absolutely thrilled to see an article grounded in my new book 'The Next Billion Users" with Harvard Press titled, How the pursuit of leisure drives internet use.
Some of their quotes from the article are as follows. 
"According to Payal Arora, a professor at Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the internet is the leisure economy of the world’s poor. Until recently, talk of connectivity in the poor world has almost invariably been clothed in the pragmatic and well-meaning language of development. Aid agencies, internation…

Keynote for the Digital Inclusion Policy Conference in London

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What a wonderful and diverse audience for this keynote for the Digital Inclusion Policy conference held in London by the University of Liverpool. It emerged from some very critical and timely questions such as - What type of skills do people need to ‘be digital’? Do different people from different ages and abilities need different types of skills and training? And how can we foresee what skills will be needed for future work? The conference brought together researchers, civic activists, government think-tanks, policy practitioners, tech entrepreneurs and more from very different contexts and countries which made these conversations more challenging and rewarding. 
My keynote was about Inclusion with the emergence of the Next Billion Users and what that means for equity and justice at a global level in this data-driven age. 
The basis of my talk was as follows:
The mobile phone has been a global game-changer. There are more cellphones than people in China. India is the biggest market …

6 marathon presentations at the ICA-Washington

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It was one of my busiest times I have had at the International Communication Association, the largest annual gathering of communication and media scholars. This year it was held in Washington DC. I presented a diverse set of papers at the main and pre-conference and also landed up having a pre-launch for the new University of California Press journal Global Perspectives where I will serve as the Section Editor for the media and communication section.

It kick-started with me speaking alongside a wonderful panel of speakers - Frank Pasquale and Thomas Poell on 'The Moral order of Datafied Publics' at the Justice and Order in the Datafied Society Pre-conference.  My talk was drawn from the recently published paper with First Monday on Benign Dataveillance? Examining novel data-driven governance systems in India and China. Additionally, did some intellectual judo with Joseph Turow as we clearly had different perspectives on how we viewed the datafication systems in developing cou…

Speaker on Datafication and healthcare at the Royal Tropical Institute

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Looks like May is blowing up on me. Getting intense but fascinating to be moving among very diverse circles from tech activists in Berlin to mobile healthcare ministries and healthcare donors. My book The Next Billion Users is definitely pushing me into many different worlds all grappling with similar questions on fairness, tradeoffs, privacy futures, user aspirations, cultural differentiation and data regulation to name a few.

So on May 9th I spoke at the Future of Health Coverage conference in Amsterdam. This is an event organized in partnership with the Financial Times, Joep Lange Institute, and the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These organizations have been some of the ones who started to focus on the importance of financial innovation and the role of mobile technology in improving health systems in developing countries well before it became mainstream through mhealth initiatives and mobile apps.

Some questions explored together were How can we allow those in need to ‘p…

Talk at the iconic Volksbühne theatre on AI for the common good

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On May 6th, I will be heading to Berlin to help launch the School of Disobedience initiative and fittingly it will be at Berlin's most iconic theatre - Volksbühne, home to art and activism in Germany for over a century. The event will feature a conversation with Lorena Jaume-Palasí , the founder of The Ethical Tech Society, a non-profit focused on the social impact of technology and Advisory Council member of AI for the Spanish government. 

We will be speaking about AI for the common good. I will be giving a talk before hand on the Next Billion Users, drawing from my new book on how this population will push us to rethink what constitutes as "good" practice in AI futures. Currently, artificial intelligence delivers lots of material for projections about the future of societies. It seems to disrupt our concept of space, time and borders. Predominant is the view that AI will become or even is already a tool to create dystopias of oppression. However, this is only the view o…

Keynote at the BRESTOLON symposium network

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Was nice to head back to ZEMKI Bremen where I did my fellowship last year to give a keynote talk on The Next Billion Users book with Harvard Press. This was for the BRESTOLON network which is an interesting formation of academic networks to sustain mentorship across diverse academic cultures and countries. The quality of questions and engagement was wonderful and am thrilled that one can accomplish such a network - a rare feat today! Basically, Brestolon is a research network collaboration between members of the Media and Communications Departments of Södertörn University(Stockholm, Sweden); Bremen University (Bremen, Germany); London School of Economics (London, UK), and Goldsmiths, University of London(London, UK) and Catholic University of Portugal (Lisbon, Portugal). The network was launched in 2013 with a grant by the Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Reserach and Education (STINT). Since then, it has gathered annually at the member universities in Stockholm (tw…

Book launch at Athenaeum bookstore in Amsterdam

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Seems like these days I am having a lot of "first" moments. My first studio talk with BBC, which will be broadcast in the next few weeks and then my first talk at a book store. Had my book launch at the Athenaeum bookstore  in Amsterdam. Was such an interesting experience. Completely casual and intimate. A load of chairs and comfy couches clustered tightly together so you could have a real conversation with people. The audience was eclectic from retired people, tech entrepreneurs, media agencies, students, academics, and just folk interested in the topic. The format was smart - Tina Harris, an anthropologist from University of Amsterdam engaged me in a conversation before we opened it up for questions. Nicely done overall. What better way to officially launch my book than to do it in such a lovely setting in my favorite city that I call home now!

New paper on Data-Based Governance out in First Monday

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Hallam Stevens from Nanjang Technological University and I co-edited a Special Issue in First Monday, one of the first Open Access journals on the internet. The theme of this issue is "Data-driven models of governance across borders: Datafication from the local to the global."

In essence, this special issue looks closely at contemporary data systems in diverse global contexts and through this set of papers, highlights the struggles we face as we negotiate efficiency and innovation with universal human rights and social inclusion. The studies presented in these essays are situated in diverse models of policy-making, governance, and/or activism across borders. Attention to big data governance in western contexts has tended to highlight how data increases state and corporate surveillance of citizens, affecting rights to privacy. By moving beyond Euro-American borders — to places such as Africa, India, China, and Singapore — we show here how data regimes are motivated and unders…

First Book Reviews out with Times Higher Ed & E&T magazine

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Am thrilled to read these positive reviews of my new book "The Next Billion Users: Digital Life beyond the West" with Harvard University Press.  It is particularly wonderful to see one of the reviews emanate from the well read Times Higher Ed. 
I am also glad to see the Engineering and Tech magazine take this book up (as well as Tech Crunch a few weeks ago), which signals to me that the tech industry has a growing interest in broadening their worldviews beyond the technical aspects to that which is ethical, cultural and may I even dare to say, philosophical. I really am looking forward to future engagements with engineers, programmers and other stakeholders at the forefront of shaping our digital platforms.
Times Higher Education “This powerful book explores actual online lives in China, India and Brazil and asks why many of us in the West are surprised and sometimes offended by the fact that the impoverished are just as committed as we are to the search for “moments of plea…

Podcast with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)

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The podcast interview with Nora Young from Spark Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is now out. You can listen to it by clicking here.
As the number of people who are connected to the internet around the world grows, the 'next billion' users are likely to be in the developing world, young, with low incomes, and accessing the internet on mobile devices. Payal Arora (Damjan Svarc) In her new book, The Next Billion Users: Digital Life Beyond the West, digital anthropologist Payal Aroralooked at the way young users actually use the internet in a number of developing-world countries, from Brazil to Saudi Arabia. She argues that we in the West have a lot of preconceptions about how those users do — or 'ought to' — behave online. Arora spoke with Spark host Nora Young. The core of your book is that there's a belief in the west that people in the developing world are using the internet for research, education, to find work, practical things. Overall, what did you find …

Book talk at the 10th anniversary of Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies

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It was an honor to give my book talk at the special occasion of celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Nantes Institute for Advanced Studies.  The overriding theme was to "Think the world differently."

It was a large gathering and nice mix of their past and current Fellows spanning 10 years, private sector companies and media persons brought together to discuss investment in the future of this region and its transformation brought by an influx of new technologies and people.

I spoke on my book 'The Next Billion users: Digital life beyond the West' By Harvard University Press as part of the “Digital culture, humanist culture” panel. The theme of this panel was as follows "Digital technology stupefies us with its promises and its threats, particularly for the humanities. Testimonials, demonstrations and viewpoints from the South to help us think differently."

There was a brief introduction by Françoise Rubellin, the director of the Institute and professor at…