Molly Steenson gave a presentation at Giant Ant Studios in San Francisco recently, describing her work in Bangalore with Microsoft Research.
My notes and scribbles, after the jump, are not in any way complete, but give a sense of some of the issues she raised that struck me. And plenty of inaccuracies or misrepresentations of Molly's work no doubt included.
Molly looked at how people were sharing phones, different examples such as a pair of friends, cousins, or mother and daughter, etc. who had one phone between them. Where (and with whom) the phone was depended on circumstances. There was a sense of fluidity.
Our notion of one-person-per-phone, the device as a personal device, doesn't apply.
Even her usage of the term "sharing" was interesting since not everyone saw things as sharing - the usage was "molecular" she posited - linking several atoms (people) together, where goups of people might call groups of other people.
So, what does "ownership" mean?
The number is the same, the device is the same, but boundaries are blurred around who would have the phone.
Even for text messaging (where you wouldn't be able to say "is Elvis there?") there was no problem negotiating this. But wouldn't this freak us out in the West?
She described a new behavior (to me) - deleting messages from the phone. Do you know how to even do this on your phone? I don't. In some cases, young people had "secret" (i.e., semi-secret) relationships and would text these messages, then return the phone to the parent after deleting messages. Of course, when the bill came it would reveal the amount of usage and there would be problems.
Molly considered the value of the "stealth" behavior and suggested that future designs should look at how to support this. One woman in the audience shared her own experiences as an immigrant from Vietnam to the US as a teen and how her and her parents struggled with Americanizing norms around technology and other (locks on bedroom doors, home teelphones, etc.) and urged caution to not move too quickly with introducing these changes into Indian homes.
In the West a key meaning of having a phone is safety (another being individual contact) but there's little sense of either of those in the Indian culture.
The construct of the family in Indian culture is powerful in defining so many things; and so these new usage scenarios emerge from that cultural force.
Molly focused on usage (with many interesting profiles, from a slum where they have a phone but dont use it, to a permanent shoe repair shop, to college students), but did point out that the phone itself is similarly blinged to other cultures.
The UI and product design implications, though not addressed by her study, are tremendous.