Users and the Internet

Posted by Purbasha Auddy at Jul 10, 2015 04:20 AM |
This post by Purbasha Auddy is part of the 'Studying Internets in India' series. Purbasha is a SYLFF PhD fellow at the School of Cultural Texts and Records (SCTR), Jadavpur University, with more than eight years of work experience in digital archiving. She has also been teaching for the last two years in the newly-started post-graduate diploma course in Digital Humanities and Cultural Informatics offered by the SCTR. In this essay, Purbasha explores the constructions of the ideas of the Indian Internet users through the advertisements that talk about data packages, mobile phones or apps.

 

A baby [1] is refusing to be born as (as we learn later, ‘his’) parents cannot afford high-speed internet for smartphones but wi-fi plans offered by an internet service provider satisfy the baby as if the baby is being born for the internet.

The baby [2] comes out of the womb, searches the net on a smartphone, cuts his own umbilical cord, takes a selfie with the nurse, opens every possible social media- account, takes his blue baby boy balloons and finds his own way out of the building leaving behind dumbstruck parents.

The two unreal situations that are described above are the two storylines of two advertisements of the same company trying to sell an internet connection. No, this article will not talk about the aesthetic appeal of these ads, but will look into such creative ways to locate the explanation of the internet and its users instead; to be precise internet and its Indian users.

The two ads described at the beginning do not show any Indian-ness but makes the viewer wonder about how far this ‘born for the internet’ baby can travel with an internet-enabled smartphone. Are these two ads trying to define the internet as a smart product or are they trying to classify the users of the internet rather as smart? Moreover how does one define the internet? It means more than a conglomeration of networks. At this point as I am trying to coin a definition of the internet on my own, my thought-process is occupied with the activities I do on the net but I fail to define it.

 

A personal note…

In 1995, when VSNL launched the internet in India, I was 10, and engrossed in story books and comics. As I was growing up, I was discovering the world around through books, television, radio and newspapers. I was totally unaware of the practicality of the internet and it remained a fact of general knowledge. Not only me! Not a single friend of mine happened to use the internet or discussed keenly about it. My school did not offer a computer course either. After my +10 board exam, I requested (read demanded) my parents to enroll me in a computer training center which was near my house and had a government affiliation. I learnt basics of computer applications, the programming language Foxpro and basics of the internet. I even got to know how to create a basic webpage. Only when I was required to write a dissertation for my graduation, did I start going to a cyber café to type my dissertation and surf the internet. My parents were really apprehensive about what I was doing in a cyber café which was costing 30 rupees per hour!

Though my parents are still uneasy with the fact that ‘my generation’ remains glued to the internet most of the time, they are amazed on the other hand; how we do net banking, shop online, study, Facebook, exchange email, call a cab or order pizza etc. from the internet. They are happy to remain on the other side of the digital divide.

It has been twenty years that the Indian society has seen the ‘wrong side’ of the internet like hacking, phishing and other grave matters related to social networks. India is a complex society and so is the internet. But India, being the one of the largest potential markets, various services related to the internet are encouraging the probable consumers. Through the advertisements and publicity measures, they are trying to cleanse away the negative notions. They are capturing stories and characters that one can relate herself or himself to, very promptly. Even the ideas of Indian-ness, national integrity and the dreams of aspiring Indians are getting linked with the internet as mobile internet is penetrating very fast to balance the digital divide. Various events of online forgery, hacking and getting access to dicey websites (read pornography) and those matters which came as some sort of a cultural shock, made people less confident to use the internet.

 

Overcoming the fear…

Recently, these notions have been countered by commercials by an antivirus company. The commercial shows a mother [3] who is no longer anxious to let her son surf the internet because now the antivirus allows her to enable parental control. It is helping the mother as she no longer has to keep constant vigil on the internet-related activities of her son. Other commercial shows a retired old man [4] is not sceptical anymore that his son sends money using online banking. His son and the man use the antivirus which offers safe online banking.

There are two more advertisements I want to describe; the first one features a young man [5] shopping online and updating the viewers that an antivirus protection means safe online transactions. In the second ad, a fashion designer [6] is not bothered to use pendrives as the antivirus scan will protect her computer. These four commercials attempt to confront the fear that pesters the minds of the potential consumers. No beautiful models, male or female, no beyond the world creativity, but simple and set with regular characters discussing vital issues were chosen to reach out to these potential customers.

The next commercial I would like to refer to is about an antivirus for smart phones. The ad creates a euphoria that portrays a bunch of college goers [7] who have the power to protect themselves from spyware and malware and can download various applications seamlessly. Thus the point of overcoming the ‘fear’ of the unknown and the uncontrollable is very important. Maybe the two ads featuring the ‘born for the internet’ baby I begun with, find relevance here. And the question should be asked here again: that how far can one travel along the path of life by means of a smartphone with an internet connection? The adverts suggest a very intelligent and exciting life for those who can access to internet. Everything is sorted if you can stay online. A lonely individual [8] can be a Twitter celebrity. Someone can showcase her or his talent [9] through social media; like one ad shows a girl becoming an online singing sensation by garnering lots of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’.

As mobile phones remains with us most of the time, accessing the internet from it is easier (compared to a computer) and a mobile phone is thus able to furnish prompt services. There are quite a few service providers that woo us with different approaches. Compared to selling internet connections, it is perhaps far less complicated to produce campaigns for fast moving consumer goods. At least in the case of FMCG it is easier to explain the product which is within range of our four senses. But it is quiet a troublesome project to explain the internet given the social back drop in a country like India. This article will not take names of any of the service providers. Instead it will point out the strategies they are adopting to touch an emotional chord for the probable consumers keeping the existing ones. Furthermore, it would like to find out the nature and meaning of the internet and outlook of its users in the Indian scenario.

 

Power redefined…

The internet providers proclaim through the advertisements that an internet connection on one’s mobile is a ‘power’ for her or him. The power that has the ability to bring all the nuances that is available around. Only the burning questions are:

  • How to use the power? Whether to play online games, immerse oneself in social networking, and use a search engine to search for the unknown or perhaps read an academic article from Jstor? There are immense possibilities to the power.
  • How long can the power be used (read limited or unlimited connection)?
  • How much time does it take to get the result of the power (read the speed of the connection)?
  • And lastly and very importantly how much does this power cost?

These uncertainties are answered by adverts with creativity and almost 20% of the Indian population tries to grab this power. But of course a large segment is still to be included (inclusion may be harder due to various socio-economic conditions that are deep-rooted within the Indian scenario) in the benefit-circle of this power called the internet. The following storyline of another television commercial shows the power called the internet which can allow pictures or videos to be exchanged instantaneously. An ad shows that the internet is a great help for a mother as she sends a picture of her wailing son after a hair-cut, to her husband. As soon as the mother reaches home with her sad boy, the father having got the same hair-cut also returns and is ready to soothe the boy.

 

Confidence building apparatus…

Thus, through creative commercials, internet service providers are trying to tell that one should keep an internet connection handy to be confident so that Indians cannot be fooled by anybody anywhere. Several adverts are showcasing the following events that will not occur if one has a mobile internet connection. Such events are quite common and thus one can easily associate oneself with them.

  • Not a single person on earth can fool you [10].
  • A corrupt political leader cannot go way without fulfilling the promises s/he made [11].
  • Baseless prediction of religious leaders can be countered [12].
  • And one of the ads went even further ahead to suggest that the population of India can be controlled if married couples spend time doing various activities that the internet has to offer [13]!

 

Self-learning tool…

The ads promote that one of the activities could be self-learning. There is an enormous package of everything available and it is a flexible way to learn. A slow learner [14] in school may not be given special attention in order to overcome learning difficulties but the internet is very patient and it will not complain. Learn how to write poems [15], how to cook, how to make a drone [16], learn French [17]. Furthermore these ads suggest that an internet user is a self-sufficient human being who can find her or his own way using a Google map! Just like two friends learning culinary skills from internet and opening up a restaurant.

 

An institution…

At this point, the creative pursuit of the commercials take a leap and declare the internet (or the internet connection the particular company is providing) as an institution which is very much inclusive in nature. Those who are barred from getting admission in schools, colleges or universities, are welcome to learn through the institution called the internet and can establish themselves in mainstream society or can learn for the sake of learning. In this case, these ads have pointed out girls are not allowed [18] to go to school, a eunuch [19] is refused everywhere. But they are learning from the internet and compete with the more privileged in mainstream society. Other cases show a mother could not complete [20] her study in law, and her daughter is encouraging her to complete it through the internet. Lastly, these ads try to convince that the institution of the internet is cheaper than regular institutions.

 

Utility…

Besides the ambitions of the internet stated above, the internet influences human minds in several other aspects. For example, generation gap can be healed if the society takes the bridge of the internet. About two years ago a commercial was produced with the one-liner: ‘Made for the young’ [21]. This ad shows an old man who parties with young boys, has a social network account, plays online games late at night, does video chat. These activities of the elderly character, who has a very optimistic approach towards life, are set in a mundane surrounding. Here it seems, the internet is bridging the generation gap by bringing into its fold and into the mainstream those people who might not have thought of using the internet in real life.

The notion of a huge expense that is incurred in maintaining an internet connection was busted when some service providers brought out ads which said that it was letting people watch a video for only one rupee. Very precisely, this one rupee campaign enacted the frequent quarrels [22] between a taxi-driver and his passenger over loose change and the taxi driver somehow not returning one rupee but instead showing a popular video to the passenger from his phone in lieu of that one rupee. The basic point of all the campaigns is to intensify the market and push the consumers to pay for it anyhow as an internet connection can bring magic to the consumers’ lives as the service providers claim. But who will pay for the internet connection? So they bring out campaign such as a family plan campaign [23] in which the earning member of the family is being encouraged to pay the cost for the internet packs of the other mobile connections in the family which are also provided by the same mobile service operator. These adverts show a family consisting of a super-lazy boy, an ever-angry father, a protective mother and a sweet, little sister needing the internet more than any other services like roaming, calls, or SMS [24].

Service provides are also trying to entice the consumers by providing some utilitarian services which are needed in day to day life. The following are examples of the storylines of a few other advertisements that help its service-takers to transfer money without even going to the banks. The service provider keeps the notion of flexibility of the internet, which can be used according to the need of the people of every segment of the society: a taxi driver [25] from the city sends money to his father in the village; a husband sends money to his pregnant wife [26], a college-going boy [27] requesting his elder brother to send money for mending his scooter. These characters are common and can be found in our everyday surroundings but such characters may be afraid to use such an online service for transferring money. The soothing and caring tone of theses adverts try to assure people to use the service.

As some of the adverts aim to clear the dilemma among prospective consumers, another set of ads celebrate friendship and urge consumers to go back to their roots. In this regard, a storyline of another commercial can be taken into consideration. It tells a story about some school friends [28] who become successful in their own vocations and who remain connected with the help of smartphones and internet connections. One of them locates an old ice-cream vendor in front of the school they used to study in. They came together to meet that vendor from whom they used to buy ice-cream to help him in his business. Here the online activities result in something meaningful.

This article tried to weave one narrative out of many narratives created by several internet service providers. The main intention of the article was to find out how the internet has been defined in the Indian context and how the users are being defined in the commercials. It is found that the internet may seem super-real (if we are not aware of the technical aspects, it is a real wonder!) at first glance but the commercials through the dramatizing efforts are trying to prove its usefulness in many ways. Just like when a young woman [29] finds out someone is retiring from her office, she starts sending photos of the man to their colleagues and instantly it creates a chain of forwarded messages and then everybody gathers to arrange a surprise farewell party. A happy picture indeed!

However something not bright and prosperous also needs to be mentioned. The internet service providers have been offering high speed internet and portray a happy smart life of Indians irrespective of social background and vocation but almost 80% of India remains untouched and are yet to receive the benefits of an internet connection.

 

Endnotes

[1] MTS India. 2014. "MTS Internet Baby Full Version." YouTube. February 24. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rg37kafMsWk.

[2] Premium Adverts. 2015. "Baby - MTS TV Commercial Ad." YouTube. February 18. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3krdHUji8A.

[3] Mukherjee, Pamela. 2014. "Quick Heal - TVC (Hin) Mother’s VO." YouTube. November 4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so-bjUuErBQ.

[4] Thoughtshop Advertising & Film Productions Pvt. Ltd. 2014. "QUICK HEAL 'OLD MAN.'" YouTube. July 16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1kOcz_1Ra8.

[5] Thoughtshop Advertising & Film Productions Pvt. Ltd. 2014. "QUICK HEAL 'COOL DUDE.'" YouTube. July 16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o2ot0J4ps4A.

[6] Subarna Enterprise. 2014. "Stay protected from virus infected pendrives with Quick Heal Total Security." YouTube. April 10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rLh0ng70Lc.

[7] Quick Heal. 2013. "Quick Heal Mobile Security TVC (Hindi)." YouTube. March 3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cWiomVUHVHk.

[8] MTS India. 2012. "MTS MBLAZE ‘Always On’ LATEST TVC - Anupam Mukerji." YouTube. July 24. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWfyHMbKtsg.

[9] afaqs. 2012. "MTS MBLAZE TVC - Shraddha Sharma." YouTube. July 17. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsaJtPYTUF8.

[10] Idea. 2014. "Idea ‘No Ullu Banaoing’ Anthem TVC." YouTube. August 8. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZhXSnJ8sXY.

[11] Idea. 2014. "Idea ‘No Ullu Banaoing’ Politician TVC." YouTube. March 13. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OahDrQDU24k.

[12] Idea. 2014. "Idea ‘No Ullu Banaoing’ Baba TVC." YouTube. May 11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mf2hYaHtBF4.

[13] Celeburbia Entertainment Media. 2011. "Idea 3G Funny Ad Campaign - India Over Population - Abhishek Bachchan Sir Ji Ad Series." YouTube. July 23. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqtB-IaeEo8.

[14] Idea. 2015. "Idea Internet Network (IIN) Slow Learner 25 sec TVC." YouTube. May 4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXFk4VL9rWM.

[15] Idea. 2015. "Idea Internet Network (IIN) Military 25 sec TVC." YouTube. May 4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwAP6PmGzRs.

[16] Neela, Pradeep. 2015. "Idea Internet Network IIN TV Ad - Drone wala." YouTube. January 11. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPTC945gsDo.

[17] Idea. 2015. "Idea Internet Network IIN Guide 20 sec TVC." YouTube. May 5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UkQma9Tyt8E.

[18] Falguni, Vineet. 2015. "Idea Internet Network IIN Haryanvi 25 sec TVC." YouTube. January 20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdVRGxw4ROI.

[19] iDiotube. 2015. "Idea Internet Network IIN Eunuch 25 second TVC HD." YouTube. April 26. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIZS_-Qm5Ro.

[20] Idea. 2015. "Idea Internet Network IIN Mother Daughter 20 sec TVC." YouTube. May 5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBHtLU7QGbE.

[21] Indian Tv Commercials. 2013. "Vodafone Commercial(Sep 2013)-Network(Latest Indian TV Ad)." YouTube. September 28. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6ULTFCWBQw.

[22] Airtel India. 2013. "airtel Re 1 Mobile Video - Taxi Ad (TVC)." YouTube. May 22. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hpi2sOOfeIw.

[23] Airtel India. 2015. "Airtel my plan Coffee TVC." YouTube. February 5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ElCIhsobXc.

[24] Airtel India. 2014. "airtel money TVC - Pay Electricity Bills." YouTube. January 19. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFHurfXS9uI.

[25] Vodafone India. 2015. "Vodafone m-pesa™– Babuji – HD." YouTube. March 16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktgDPTlFxsU.

[26] Vodafone India. 2014. "Vodafone m-pesa™ - Cable TV – HD." YouTube. June 12. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HIMYZDzyHeM.

[27] Vodafone India. 2014. "Vodafone m-pesa™ - Scooter – HD." YouTube. June 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQAtnQktHLI.

[28] Advartisement. 2015. "Uncle’s Ice Cream Airtel Network In India." YouTube. March 27. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFsG1G7Ombo.

[29] Nirvana Films. 2015. "VODAFONE – Farewell." YouTube. March 19. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqZVO815MiM.

 

The post is published under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, and copyright is retained by the author.

 

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