New media scene in villages is changing the face of villages and lifestyles of villagers. It is no longer film or television driven as in the previous decades. This new situation is triggered with spread of mobile phone and it has become a gadget of multiple platforms. It’s use is much beyond for direct personal relationships. With access to a range of applications, mobile phone has become a single source for multipurpose applications, including networking. All this has become possible without direct access to a computer or Internet or Wi-Fi. This has become a boom to enterprising villagers and opened the gates for digital applications with new logics.
New media making waves in villages
Much is being talked about waves new media is making. This has now become a phenomenon, even in the context of villages. This comes out of my own observations over time last couple of years and prolonged witness last several weeks in my own village. Earlier not only I had apprehensions about the process of diffusion of digital media but also about their adaption at the grass roots. My village of around 4000 population has nearly 2000 mobile phones of all kinds, many are not likely to be smart or iPhones. Many households have more than one mobile with women also invariably having a phone. That mobile phone is a unique level player comes out of the fact that owning and using mobile phone cuts across caste, community and occupations? And more than five percent of mobile phone users cannot write or read. In fact, even among some 1200 DWCRA members more than ten percent cannot read and write.
Faster access to digital devices
I now could say that access to such digital devices, comprising the new media, has been much faster in the last couple of years. My own perceptions and many others earlier was that such new media too has double edged potential as the conventional mass media. while the new media have several more benefits to expect and reap, application devices would have some adverse implications although more as an exception. I remember in my tenth class in the village high school in 1955 a boy student took a photo of a girl in the class room positioning quietly a box camera in between books for which he was reprimanded when he brought back the print of that photo. No such incident has been heard in the last couple of years in the village since proliferation of mobile phones with inbuilt camera. Perhaps because thoughtfully mobile phones are prohibited in the class room of schools and colleges. I’m also surprised that contrary to what I was apprehending there have been no instances of young using mobile phone for pornography as a menace. Also, I have not heard of a spurt in incidents of crime or deviant behaviour in the village in the last couple of years as some people have apprehended. Another perception in some quarters has been that new media prompts certain laziness or slumber in people or sways people away from rituals and traditions. Certain trend of laziness in some section of villagers is visible, but it is more on account of doles that elections and Government policies offer. The new media has advantage to intervene and include at any point giving boost to traditions and rituals like festivals, temple puja activities etc. Villagers have ingeniously availed every such occasion on new media to reach out of such occasions. Another apprehension also is disproved. That is likeliness of youth becoming lonely or becoming introvert. The new media has made a difference in the life styles of people of village, the youth more visibly. This is in their consumption, time use, dressing and even in the articulation. What has expedited the process is wide range of application software (Aps) unleashing digitalisation, online and networking services.
WhatsApp groups in Mudunuru
A few examples of the kind of change that new media has facilitated include bringing people together those with common interests or requiring similar responses by taking to WhatsApp groups such a way that everyone has an opportunity to avail or share or interact. Multiple such groups have emerged in Mudunuru. Somewhat like “nerves of civil society.” These groups also activate citizenry who are otherwise passive or introvert or had solo life. Examples for such groups include college students of village subject wise, or villagers with interests but scattered away. There must be more than a dozen such groups in the village. I wonder why a Group has not been formed for legal guidance to vulnerable victims in the village. The one I’m familiar has over 160 (active ones may be one fourth) such members in MudunuruSnehitulaSangham group with those mostly located away from village with a local administrator voluntarily managing the network with regular postings of happenings of interest in village. I was impressed about this Group for it mobilised only last fortnight over a million rupees within a week to help a villager who was hospitalised stuck with brain hemmer. More as a social responsibility and ensured his reach home back safely. That’s the power of networks that new media facilitates.These Groups have given identity to otherwise not known in the village young and old.Then there are more than a dozen micro businesses,including street carts in the village by unemployed dropout youth who started food carts (not food court) with revenue three times more than that of the revenue of village panchayat. Mobile vendors going around the streets in the village shouting at high pitch of their vocal cord, now use mobile phone connected to a loud speaker fitted to a cycle about the proctor or service they deal, now use their mobile phone with pre-recorded message. Their efficiency has gone up marginally or more. Mobile phone more than anything else has inculcated certain justification or logic in users outlook, particularly among members of groups. All of them use GooglePay, ATMPay and display the same attractively. But, on the other, neither the panchayat nor the revenue department or the sachivalay which collects annually taxes from local households, have such facility. Even the cooperative society does not have digital payment facility nor any of them have online payment facility despite a number of those residing outside the village have to pay annually. Neither of these Offices in the village have networking facility despite claims and proliferation of offices in the village. What is even more surprising is neither of these Government agencies, including the panchayat, has even a general map of the village on display.
As compared to these self-motivated citizens and local vendors, the school systems are not yet active in availing digital media although some of the governments pompously claim and advocate use of these digital gadgets at primary and secondary schools. Microsoft’s Bill Gates (2007), Apple’s Steve Jobs (2010), I-Pad designer JonaDeas, Apple CEO, Tim Cook are some tech gurus who had cautioned their children against using smart phone, iPads and such other electronic gadgets until after they were 14 years of age. Why did these tech gurus restrain and regulate their children from using smart phone, iPads and the like which were their own creations? They should learn on their own without depending on such pops. They thought their children would avail such gadgets more maturely and imaginatively after having gone through some kind of foundational backup, where they experience use of their own mind first.The message is that children need to be allowed to harness their mind first at the very early age in an informal and open ended way.
The administrator, Satya Narayana of a WhatsApp group in the village periodically reminds members to abide by decency norms, not to violate and abide by groups prime objectives and even ensures transparency pointing threats occasionally to withdraw from the group. I’m not sure how many groups maintain such discipline and even avoid posting spam messages, fake news, and such other propaganda type. Guidelines that need to be followed should be periodically conveyed to citizens. The kind of vigil group administrators should maintain time to time also be made known. Periodic workshops and the like could be organised in rural centres to minimise scope of exploiting rural folk.
Social impact of new media
Social impact of new media, on lifestyle more specifically, is far more visible and of irreversible nature than in other contexts. People have become consumers as if indiscreetly. Curiously, users are more interested in the present as now, today and tomorrow than in the distant future. But the new media seems it has dampened enthusiasm or anxiety for formal education. The increase in dropout rate however cannot be attributed to the mobile phones. Mass media or social media or new media or alternate media cannot ignore or be unconcerned of such consequences.
(Dr N Bhaskara Rao is longstanding public policy analyst and author of over a dozen books on governance).