opening more shops. ‘It is taking too much effort to entrench computers. I would rather invest in hardware stores and the like that will bring sure profits. There are 9 hour power cuts and I use a generator during power cuts’.
Making business out of information kiosks
Out ethnography began by recording instances that reveal good social entrepreneurship around ICT for emerging markets and the various crunches and facilitating factors impacting business opportunities. We would like to list some linkages that came out of it.
It is becoming clear from our village ethnography that technology and social contexts feed on each other to shape landscapes. Much depends on receptivity and social costs of technology to feed imaginations, prod human agency to learn skill sets, open businesses or take technology further to meet atypical demands3.
As mentioned, dynamic villages with diverse infrastructural facilities being part of industrial/ export zones, pull in business investments, socio cultural expectations and behavioral shifts. For an example, an out sourced Swarovski unit employs young women from local village to create premium fashion products. It may be hard to convince ourselves that they have no impacts on the social and imaginary worlds of the girls and their social groups. All of these create nascent consumption demands that KO’s tap in ways to augment business.
Kiosk services also depend on village social geographies. Demand for learning computing skill packages has obvious ties with the market and is part of an on-going process of demand and supply.
The only browsing/emailing happened in those spaces that attracted a floating population from urban areas with prior dependency on these services. Requests for information, whether agri-related or not, brought little commerce.
Turning from contextual support for kiosk business we look at KO’s responding to these social scenarios. The more enterprising the KO the more is the business sniffed out of nascent consumption patterns and creates an active market out of them. They strongly intuit about technology and its business visualizations with a honed instinct to understand consumption patterns and its commercialization in specific social milieus. The two kiosks, temporarily shut down, in our list of 12 had interesting KO’s keen on introducing ICT into their villages. Both now working in fulltime jobs outside the village, cite their impatience and lack of effort in driving and holding on to the kiosk until it reached a level of sustainability. They are still hopeful of rekindling kiosk business.
3 The advent of cassettes and cassette technology had a dramatic effect on music industries, musical forms, consumption patterns and consequent spread of this technology across classes and markets (Manual, 1993). This also bolsters our argument around porous urban-rural inflows.
It is interesting to see how desktop PC’s attract other hardware/technology attachments to meet popular demands. Xerox/scanner/printer/Fax/web cameras are popular attachments that attract clients to the kiosk. Photo shop is a very popular application that makes over pictures to suit client preferences. A more enterprising operator will take the camera to the village to look for client and business opportunities. KO’s have mentioned the desire for village web portals with dedicated ID’s. A KO’s brother, trustee of the local temple which is a prominent pilgrimage centre, expressed a strong demand for web sites to enhance and broads cast the visual appeal of such places. Creating web domains for a village and providing virtual space for each family to store their photos are thought as a future market demand. These are growing indications of an understanding that web spaces can accommodate visual representations of village social geographies. Seasonal events, weddings, festivals are attractions making demands for videography.
It is important to address the relevance and usage of ICT in complex societies such as India, where pre-literacy and non-literacy co-exist with highly literate sensibilities, economic statuses do not necessarily coincide with literacy levels, and culture specific oral traditions and visual cultures are intrinsic to everyday experiences.
Many ICT ventures in rural contexts will lack the access to focused business models and deep resources of corporate players like ITC’s e-choupals. These ventures need to be particularly responsive to local needs in order to be successful. Commercially sustainable ventures need to target context related and locally unheeded consumption needs or tease it out with new technology. Even in contexts of prevailing poverty people pay for entertainment or what they consider superfluous needs. The high numbers of TV ownership and viewership support this argument. Thus, to pay for useful information, say to browse the web for a new cropping pattern or a pesticide or even employment opportunities may still be a difficult response. People continue to depend on traditional knowledge bearers and social networks to extract and pass this kind of information. However, it is highly probable that one will happily pay for a marriage to be digitally documented, for astrological charts or making a family film!
Despite a serious growing interest and focus on ICTs in the developing world, our opinion holds that innovation in IT software is still biased towards information needs of developed communication cultures, and ignores complex ways in which communication patterns differ in developing or constrained market spaces. Despite the huge popularity of computers as a multi-mediated experience with appropriate software, its basic grammar is targeted at literate, information driven, text rich scenarios that may not take off in other contexts (Srivastava 2005)