Wednesday, November 4, 2015

LSEImpactBlog out on Facebook as the Internet and the digital romance economy

Check out my blog on the London School of Economics Impact Blog regarding Facebook and the Digital Romance Economy.

Brief overview...

Through the controversial internet.org initiative, Facebook now serves as The Internet to the majority of the world’s marginalized demographic. The Politics of Data series continues with Payal Arora discussing the role of Facebook and internet regulation in the global South. While the West have had privacy laws in place since the 1970s, the emerging markets are only now seriously grappling with this. This piece explores some of the unfolding areas of vulnerability in the digital romance economy.

Starting my sabbatical journey as a visiting scholar at NYU Steinhardt

Who doesn't love sabbaticals! It's one of those ancient and privileged rituals in academia which is prized dearly and rightly so. It allows us to disconnect, recharge and rediscover our passions for writing, reading and engaging with new ideas and people. Time is structured not by grading or teaching but by exploratory thought. With my book deadline with Harvard University Press in the summer of 2016, I have my path carved by this dominant goal. The book Poor@Play: Digital Life beyond the West is not a typical academic book but rather will be written in the style which is more New Yorker ...and that's exciting as its about unlearning journal style writing and going back to a time where we write to engage a larger intelligent public and yet, back it with the vigor of serious scholarship.

So what better place to start my sabbatical journey than Steinhardt's NYU. I am working closely with Arjun Appadurai and will be attending the weekly Privacy Research Group under the mentorship of Helen Nissenbaum - two larger than life figures in academic life and brilliant mentors!

Of course, New York is an intellectual hotbed that is energizing and exhausting at the same time. Already signed up for two conferences this month which takes away from writing time. Sabbaticals are a constant struggle between becoming a student and becoming a leader of thought, which requires serious solitude for writing original text.

So, I keep this in mind while I approach this journey...

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Launch of new organization -Catalyst Lab

I have for the longest time wanted to start an organization that would bring academia and business together, partly because unlike many academics in the humanities and social sciences, I did shift careers and moved from the business world into this so called 'ivory tower.' Having experienced both worlds, I respect their unique strengths and  am also aware of the challenges that weaken them when it comes to public outreach, one of the cornerstones for any organization in a contemporary democratic society. Being 'accountable' to the public today is not just about transparency but a new kind of communication which is more a dialogue between diverse stakeholders rather than a top down dissemination of information to the public. And with new digital platforms providing potentially new public spheres online, we have little excuse to delay such conversations from happening.

Since I'm a big fan of 'manifestos' as it condenses ideals and passions that remind us of why we do what we do, click here for the Catalyst manifesto for those interested in knowing what makes this Lab different and worth engaging with.

So what does Catalyst Lab actually do? It pioneers digital media projects that stimulate public discussion on wide-ranging social issues, from the mundane to the profound, involving stakeholders such as businesses, non-profits, activists, artists, think tanks and government agencies in this endeavor. The goal is to bring public debate to life through creative social media strategies that entertain, educate and energize stakeholders to participate in discussions to inform and be informed.

And we have an amazing global team to make this happen too! Excited to grow this organization further and take on new and challenging projects!



Thursday, August 6, 2015

New article out on big data and the global south

Last year, I initiated the Privacy and the global South Project with fieldwork on digital privacy in the favelas of Brazil, townships of South Africa and the slums of India. Its been an exciting year and while at it, big data is one of those topics that dominate this discussion. So, wrote a thought piece on this for Discover Society which just came out. Check it out if you are interested in how conversations on surveillance, privacy, big data and trust transfer to this much neglected setting and populace. 
Big data and the global south project


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

New Book Out! Crossroads in New Media, Identity and Law: The Shape of Diversity to Come


After our highly interdisciplinary conference on The Shape of Diversity to Come at Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2013 where we had a phenomenal line up of keynote speakers including Saskia Sassen, Julie Cohen, Chandran Kukathas, Jos de Mul, and Emmanuel Melissaris, we decided that we should have a book out that really takes on interdisciplinary thinking on this issue, exploring tensions as identity and law confront new media developments.

So we are proud to now share the volume publised by Palgrave called Crossroads in New Media, Identity and Law  The Shape of Diversity to Come. Here, you will find provocative chapters by Sassen, Cohen, Vermeylen, deMul, and more! 

In a nutshell, this volume brings together a number of timely contributions at the nexus of new media, politics and law. The central intuition that ties these essays together is that information and communication technology, cultural identity, and legal and political institutions are spheres that co-evolve and interpenetrate in myriad ways. Discussing these shifting relationships, the contributions all probe the question of what shape diversity will take as a result of the changes in the way we communicate and spread information: that is, are we heading to the disintegration and fragmentation of national and cultural identity, or is society moving towards more consolidation, standardization and centralization at a transnational level? In an age of digitization and globalization, this book addresses the question of whether this calls for a new civility fit for the 21st century.

Enjoy! 

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.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Big data and the Politics of Participation: Plenary Talk at the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference, Berkeley

It was a wonderful experience to serve as a Plenary Speaker for the Technology, Knowledge & Society Conference held this time at the University of Berkeley, California. The theme was 'Big Data and the Politics of Participation in a Digital Age.' Since the other plenary speaker Deirdre K. Mulligan from Berkeley's School of Information was talking primarily on the legality of big data and how diverse corporations interpret compliance in the United States and Europe, it was nice to contrast this with perspectives from the global South. After all, most of the conversation around big data seems to be hijacked by Western concerns, issues and contexts.

My talk, 'Bottom of the Data Pyramid: Big data perspectives from the global South' played with the much hyped Development idea on the bop as a new consumer base, inverting decades of viewing the poor in the global South as passive beneficiaries to now active co-creators of their own data.What do we know after all of the impact of big data on most of the world's population, about 60% of them being below the poverty line and residing primarily in emerging economies?

With India's newly launched and much celebrated scheme to create biometric identities for its 1.2 billion people, Brazil's problematic partnership with Phorm, a British spyware company that uses big data to track all navigation activities of Brazilian users to Africa's social entrepreneurial sites such as Ushahidi, designed to turn data from different channels into real-time crisis maps that can assist humanitarian relief efforts, there was much to discuss! Going into such cases was the building blocks of my talk, pushing what constitutes as data identities, data democracies and whether the global South is experiencing such a thing as a data commons?

 Look out for my article on this soon. will keep you posted!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The City & South Asia: Digital romance in the Indian city

Nimmi Rangaswamy and I wrote a chapter on 'digital romance in the Indian city' based on our years of fieldwork in slums of India - on how the youth are engaging and participating on social media in ways that are creative, romantic and deeply social. This series, The City & South Asia is an exciting and accessible anthology of voices from diverse scholars on urbanism, South Asia and contemporary issues and developments in emerging markets. The best part is this is open access -what all scholarship should be in the 21st Century -good going Harvard University Press!

Digital romance in the Indian City