The Moral Deficit
Meenal Baghel
THE NEXT BILLION USERS: DIGITAL LIFE BEYOND THE WEST by Payal Arora Harvard University Press, 2019, 280 pp., ₹ 2740.00
April 2023, volume 47, No 4

For some time now, Silicon Valley has been obsessing over the next billion users. As mobile telephony becomes accessible along with cheap data—Jio, for instance, offers the cheapest data in the world—what kind of new markets will emerge in the global south, and how to parse the tech-consumption of the world’s poor to both enable them and profit off them.

In steps digital anthropologist Payal Arora with her thesis on what digital life beyond the West actually looks like. For over two decades, Arora, who teaches at Erasmus University Rotterdam, has been studying digital behaviour of the world’s poor. Her a-ha moment, by her own admission, was quite commonplace in its revelation: the poor, like everyone else, use technology and social media for leisure foremost. ‘It is a centuries-old hypocrisy that leisure is the prerogative of the elites while labour is the fate of the masses. Bringing to light the divide in access to digital leisure challenges the sacred tenet on which the global digital project has been built over decades—the belief that a good digital life for the poor would be based in work and inherently utilitarian,’ she writes.

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