Missed Call or an Opportunity: Understanding Mobile Phone Literacy Among Street Vendors in Chennai

Missed Call or an Opportunity: Understanding Mobile Phone Literacy Among Street Vendors in Chennai

Indira Ananth (Loyola Institute of Business Administration, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3179-1.ch007
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The mobile phone has come to be recognized as one of the key instruments of ICT. Its easy acceptance as a communication device enhances its usage. India is one of the fastest growing markets for the government has been keenly promoting a digital India programme with a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. There has been much focus on mobile phones and their applications in the light of delegalisation of notes in India. It has gained attention in the scenario of moving to a cashless economy. It has brought into focus more sharply the need for mobile phone literacy. This chapter discusses the use of mobile phones among street vendors in Chennai, a capital city and the fourth largest urban agglomeration in India. The study found that most owned a basic mobile phone. The vending business continued to be practiced in old ways with no new management skills. The business was run and was highly dependent on cash payments. The respondents did not consider the mobile phone as an important tool for daily business.
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There has been much focus on mobile phones and their applications in the recent past. It has been discussed in greater earnest in the light of the recent delegalisation of notes in India, which came very suddenly. It has gained attention in the scenario of the need to move towards a cashless economy. In this context, it would be worth a while to look at how much the mobile phones have made inroads into the Indian economy as it has been identified as one of the instruments that can be easily disseminated among the public, especially among those working in the unorganized sector.

The Government of India has on its part, since the mid-1990s taken up ambitious projects to implement and take forward the e-governance initiatives. The e-initiatives are mainly focused on the development of information systems in the country. They laid emphasis on citizen-centric services, prominent among them being railway computerization, land record computerization and others. The National level e-Governance Plan was initiated in 2006. This plan focused on thirty one Mission Mode Projects to cover domain areas such as agriculture, land records, health, education, passports, police, courts, municipalities, commercial taxes, treasuries among others. In many instances the so-called citizen-centric projects remained remote and made less than the desired impact. This was attributed to the lack of absorption capacity among the end-users. A study of the projects by the Department of Information Technology, Government of India (2008) also showed that the varying degree of impact in the various initiatives could be explained by the extent of computerization and the re-engineering done in them for easy implementation.

Across the world a lot of thrust has been given, to promote inclusive growth that covers electronic services, products, devices and job opportunities. This is true of India also. India’s imports of electronic goods are expected to reach US $400 billion by 2020. It seems the country is at the tipping point where technology could be effectively leveraged to meet the aspirational needs of its 1.2 billion citizens. So what then is the common thread that binds the e-initiatives and ICTs?

The common use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) tends to refer to the newer technologies of phone and internet, but the term ICT could be best used to include traditional communication media such as radio and television. Digital convergence is gradually bringing devices to the market that include the traditional media such as phones with radio, media centers with computing capability and television, which increasingly blurs the distinction between old and new ICTs. The OECD (2005) has a broad umbrella definition for ICT, which includes the internet and mobile phones under ICT.

An earlier OECD (2003) study clearly identified that ICTs could facilitate economic growth in developed countries. The ways in which this had been experienced was: (i) the technological innovation and high volumes of demand generated by an ICT production sector; (ii) the use of ICTs throughout the value chain contributing to the multi-factor productivity and (iii) the ICT investment that had contributed to ‘capital deepening’ in the countries. In case of the developing countries, it was seen that concentrating on ICT production and service sectors led to noticeable poverty reduction, though the poor seemed to benefit less than the non-poor. If the poor had to benefit, it would have to be brought about through pro-active policies.

Coming to mobile phones, it can be seen that it is one technology which has had the fastest adoption rates across the world. Today more households in developing countries own a mobile phone than having access to electricity or clean water, and nearly 70 per cent of the bottom fifth of the population in developing countries own a mobile phone (WDR, 2016). People are more connected today, helping in bringing more opportunities for businesses, households, and governments.

About the mobile phone, the four characteristics that instantly fascinate the user are its varied facets: (i) the ability for two-way communication; (ii) availability for 24 hours in a day; (iii) perception of shrinking of geographical distances with a touch of a button; and (iv) low transaction costs.

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