Essays | The Cell Phone Gospel

Books and Culture‘s legendary editor John Wilson reached out to me to review this academic study of mobile phones in India. It was a great chance to combine my varied interests, from my travel-guide editing days for Let’s Go: India and Nepal to my long-ago academic work on the history of technology.

The most touching moment in Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey’s book on the mind-boggling spread of mobile phone technology in India comes in a quote from an email by one of the authors’ Delhi-based Australian informants, describing an impoverished laborer he’d encountered at the edge of an urban construction zone:

He had one of those large Samsung smart phones; it was so uncanny and out of place. There amongst the dust, pillars and rubble of a building site was this person, dressed very poorly, holding and obviously enjoying his smart phone. He was using one of its applications, but I’m not sure which.

Whenever a modern technology leaps the barriers and takes root in places that had never been kind to its precursors, things can seem uncanny indeed, at least to those on the outside.

Read more at Books and Culture: The Cell Phone Gospel

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