As individuals, families and communities, we all respond to change differently. We accept or resist it, we sometimes settle for a compromise, evolving to accommodate change.

Although recognized, change is not as often realized.

As we gravitate towards an era where we turn more unmindful and impervious to this condition, it is perhaps imperative to question the equations that structure in our lives.

What is essentially dispensable and what is not.

Immediately after independence, driven by the need to build a strong economy, the Indian government implemented economic policies that promoted industrialization, import substitution and the growth of the public sector through central planning that failed, creating a macro¬economic crisis, curbing the country’s economic growth immensely. This is debatable as many economists argue that the emphasis on building the public sector enabled equitable growth and the building of infrastructure that laid the foundation for economic liberalization 45 years later.

The decades that followed independence were characterized by a pride in Indian goods and a collective desire to contribute towards to the economic development of the young nation. This aspiration was embodied in slogans such as ‘Be Indian, Buy Indian’ a carry over of Gandhi’s call to boycott foreign goods and embrace Swadeshi. Thrift was a virtue and saving an imperative. Middle class families tended to make do with what they had rather than hanker for what they could not afford.

Sixty years after independence the mood is completely different. The year 1991 saw the beginning of a new era of globalization that began with the liberalization of the Indian economy. Economic reforms, disinvestment in the public sector and impetus to foreign direct investment opened the country to foreign trade and privatization of many sectors.

The arrival of global brands, increased investment in telecommunications and easy availability of credit resulted in increased consumerism across the Indian middle classes. The ‘Make Do’ perspective gave way to ‘Must Have’. All these changes lead to the Indian middle class household becoming a platform for technological experimentation. The privacy of the middle class home as well as the public space was invaded by a series of evolving tools and technologies.

Growing up in my grandparents’ home during this period, I was oblivious to not just the fact that we functioned differently but had distinctly different experiences and relationships with technology in spite of subconsciously accepting our differences and establishing a healthy rapport.

From there, I tried to find these instances and the spaces within which our differences manifested. After going round the clock, observing our lives, I started coming across tools… both simple and complex tools that guided both our activities through the day and our lives.

One such space I explored was communication, specifically transmission of sound, the first form of live communication and the tools that enabled it. Something about the way my generation and my grandparents’ generation has been socialized, combined with this new communication technology generated various interesting interactions between individuals, communi¬ties and the tools itself. Interactions that reflected our dispositions, perspectives and practices.

The phenomenal rate of change has prevented us from questioning, comparing, judging and reflecting on even the most elementary activities we engage in.

This compilation is a study and representation of such technology mediated interactions that took place over the past fifty years in the Indian middle class household.

Stories about interactions tell us how these were key in shaping our social and personal lives, redefining our values and constructing “middle class culture”.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Household + Stories

Mr. B Venkatswamy, Age 80
Retd Civil Engg/Estate officer University of Agricultural sciences (UAS)

1951- Made first phone call to well wisher who was a doctor seeking advice on further studies. Having completed SSLC the call was to inquire whether to pursue LMP or to wait for the intermediate and do MBBS.
During the early fifties, Every taluk had about 2-3 telphones, one for the Tasildar, Amildar and Health inspector.

Mrs.Venkatswamy, Age 75

Has stayed at home most of her life apart from the times she travelled outside the country. She has found the telephone to be her portal to the outside world, especially her husband who was always on the move outside home. The family's affluence enabled frequent usage of the telephone. Phone calls were made to inform the wife of every important move and location of her husband during travel.

Mr. N.Harindranath, Age 62

His father being an IAS officer, had every technology delivered at his doorstep, from the telephone to the radio to the gramophone. Even though resources were abundant, as children they were strictly prohibited from touching the telephone. It was clearly demarcated as 'not an object of play'. Breach resulted in severe punishment.
This negated the fascination and excitement involved in testing a new experience. Almost like how a child plays with a new toy.

The whole district of Mysore only had about hundred telephone numbers. All were two digit numbers. The system was very open. There was no opportunity for any misuse, mischief or advertisement through telephone.

To most people at that time, the telephone was purely a necessity. Nobody understood how the device worked or bothered to unravel the technology behind the so called 'miracle' of instant distant communication.
'The telephone held no materialistic value'

There was frequent use of phonogram/telegram.
He recalled an incident where he had sent a telgram to a friends house informing him that he would be coming for dinner. He had then taken his family over only to find that they had not received the telegram and were unprepared having not cooked dinner.

Mr. Arun Varma, Age 67,
Producer, Bollywood.
Used to use Rs 200 worth prepaid cards for most of his long conversations. Calls to London were Rs 45 a minute, whilst trunk calls costed anywhere between 10 and 15 rupees. These cards were convenient because it prevented him from talking endlessly, especially after having consumed drinks at night, it also prevented servants and strangers from using the phone. It also meant that he could use any landline device, not necessarily his. He did not always have to be home to call his people. Primarily used for family, business and girlfriends.

'Let anything change, I just need the red and green button, thats all'

Mr. Murali Subramaniam, Age 36
Software Engineer, Aditi, Bangalore

First formal form of communication was through greeting cards. Communication with friends began only after the age of 13/14. As children they played with matchbox and string telephones.
Due to the adult monopoly over the telephone, the children never had a chance to explore and meddle with the device the way little children meddle with mobile phones these days.
This was probably the reason there was a lack of particular fascination prior to the first experience.
  • It was sort of difficult to feel connected over the telephone. One had to literally scream over the line, especially for trunk calls.
  • As a child I was not even aware of the word 'hello', never knew it was an english word which meant something. Hearing it being used to start a conversation on the telephone, I assumed one could not start a conversation without a hello, almost as if the person on the other side would not respond without a hello.
  • Most of the conversation around the telephone then involved the instrument: its quality, durability and color. There was an obsession behind owning a telephone of the color one preferred, probably people thought it represented themselves, something more personal.
  • People used to book for colors in advance and wait for it. Ironically after all the effort involved in procuring a phone of their preferred color, they would cover the telephone with a piece of cloth, in comparison to today where features are given more importance and nobody bothers covering the landline at home.
  • Unlike today there was close watch on time back then. He remembers his father starting a timer the moment the pulse started.
  • The wires used to be all around and over the house as nobody bothered concealing them. Sometimes the wire was a lot longer than required so that it could be moved around the house.
  • He says the older phone call experience is like the family sitting together watching television .
  • Father gained respect amongst the tenants as he allowed them to use the device purely out of goodwill. It also helped him connect a outer circle of people(those who contacted his tenants), helped build relations with relatives of tenants.
  • Another interesting thing he mentioned was how people in the house, especially children learnt about different languages (basics of response) just through receiving phone calls for neighbors.
  • The first device he bought when he went to the states was a telephone. Something that was planned even before departure.
  • His first mobile phone was forced upon him by his management in spite of him not wanting one. Hates being traceable all the time. Feels there is an increase in expectancy, in terms of having to be answerable all the time.There is an expectation to stay in touch, leading to many assumptions which further leads to misunderstanding.
Priya (Mrs. Murali), Age 30
Software engineer, Housewife
  • Only during high school was i ever allowed to receive personal phone calls. The only one then being one from my friend Sowmya inviting me to her residence for group study.
  • While doing my engineering, i used to stay in a hostel which only had one telephone.
  • Parents would need to inform the attender that need to speak to their daughter. The attender would scream out your room number and name from the verandah. Phone calls were very short and purely need based.
  • My father, being from the ITI would usually somehow figure a way out fix the minor problems related to the telephone by himself.
  • He would make us answer phone calls he did not wish to answer or was not sure of. (Lack of caller id). He would also ask us to search from a number in the directory.
  • Call engaged numbers continuously till answered. We were even taught to identity the nature of the call from the ring.
  • As children we used to make prank calls in his absence to the police station and other relatives. The police once even threatened to come home and take action.

Mr.Vasanth Subramaniam, Age 40
Software Engineer, IBM, Bangalore
  • Seldom uses the telephone for personal conversations. Prefers face to face interaction.
  • Collecting the directory was a major task every year, it was must and had to be done immediately.
  • People had issues with the placement of the telephone pole. Nobody wanted it in front of their houses.
  • Nobody emphasizes on durability of the devices anymore. The device need not last so long when the features change so rapidly.
  • we were once at the mercy of the government ot provide us the service. Today, the customer is the king.
Images from previously researched households.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Installation Segment 2

Derived from the scenarios and initial narrative iterations, these will move towards being more artistically poised stand alone pieces at one level and coalesce into a narrative when placed in union.

Installation Segment 1

Derived from the scenarios and initial narrative iterations, these will move towards being more artistically poised stand alone pieces at one level and coalesce into a narrative when placed in union.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The telephone in Print | West

Was looking through print from the 1920's to 1980's and found many ideas dealing with the marketing of the telephone. Im yet to find such material in the Indian context.

Ideas dealing with Advantage, the magic behind the technology, some dealing with distance and bringing 2 ideas together, some purely technological perspectives and some absurd ones on the color of the telephones available.