Hacking Life - the India Way. SCS 2012 | Dina Mehta | A Convo Presentation


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Slides from a talk I gave at Microsoft SCS 2012 in January this year. its an 8 minute talk intended to provoke the audience into viewing "hacking" as a generative construct for thinking and an organizing principle for life ... hacking life and living ... rather than it being about just about hacking infrastructure to do different things.

Contact me if you'd like the talk script

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  • What happens when a thousand oil cans decide to fly? This is a public art installation using grass roots ingenuity called Jugaad. It is a free-standing shade canopy spread over 70 square metres. It was created from 945 discarded oil cans by 90 villagers over a period of three months.
  • Art imitates life! In India, life’s a hack. We move from one hack to another with no conscious thought as we try and cope with our infrastructure and our systems which aren’t always keeping pace with our needs and desires. Many of you’ve heard my rants on Twitter and at my blog, as things don’t work as they should here! I’d go as far as to say that hacking is, in fact, an organizing principle for life in India. Requiring rapid adaptation, creativity and often some guile!
  • So, where does this come from … this almost innate Indian-style innovation.... often called Jugaad (not to be mistaken for the art installation). While it is quite the nom du jour among innovation and design experts, historically, it really is, in the words of Aditya Dev Sood, just a coping strategy borne out of a lack of options or limited resources. People are forced to organize their lives around these improvisations, as aspirations and dreams, are in dissonance, with infrastructure and service networks. It is about ingenuity in the face of adversity. It is about finding solutions.
  • No, I’m not talking about pedal-powered washing machines or diesel generator powered vehicles. I want to focus on a much more personal dimension…. of INDIA’s almost innate hacking culture. I’m going to introduce you to some people I’ve recently met in our research projects. These are people who are shaping India’s future. In sharing, I want to stimulate you to think differently in terms of how we might approach hacking….. As a generative and novel way…. Hacking life and living – rather than it being just about technology or infrastructure!
  • Raghu is a small laundry owner. He’s a guy that works from 6 am to 10 pm at night and does this 7 days a week. He doesn’t want his kids to be in this business. Today, Raghu’s livelihood is under threat from the big Laundromats. How can Raghu compete with them? As a business - service is now key. He will grab at anything that enables him to deliver on service – speed or personalization. How can cheap technologies help Raghu hack large businesses and make more money?
  • Sachin has big dreams. He’s come from the village, a farmer’s son, and is in a Tier 3 town, Belgaum. He’s on his way to Bangalore. He’s given up things to place himself in a new environment to open up opportunities – he now wants the city to come to him. How does he hack that … he feels this will happen by networking. We’ve all met him – he’s the kind of guy who’s willing to friend you anywhere, strike up a chat on yahoo or facebook, send you Hi 5’s, the first to exchange business cards. Many of India’s cities are made up of migrants like Sachin. Whether it’s the vegetable vendors, flower sellers, rickshaw wallas, painters, errand boys, or Executives like Sachin, with big dreams. How can we help Sachin hack into new networks? How is he hacking his persona and bigger self?
  • Linked to hacking money …. Is the notion of hacking the system. It’s an attitude here – you would be seen as stupid if you paid for original music or movies or software. You must have heard of the missed call syndrome where the ring, is, the communication. Kids download movies, music, videos using really cheap or free nighttime connectivity and share with their friends.CDs?? DRM?? Consider hacking “free”. Where could hacking free accelerate progress? Consider the collective in hacking free? The power of many?
  • Neelakshi works at an interior design training office and is allowed free classes as a result. She comes from a lower middle class family and has limited money and access. How does she make up for that? She’s looking to expand her knowledge and uses her creativity to give her an edge. She doesn’t have a PC. Money is really tight and yet she spends money on a Smartphone because she believes it will change her world. Example. she uses her mobile phone to access the internet and download pictures for class assignments. Or adds interesting frames to her pictures. Or uses the dictionary to learn new words. In the process, she gains respect (& sometimes resistance), and is able to delay her marriage. The hacks on her device give her power and presence beyond apparent means.
  • Manisha is a maid servant – she works at 4 homes seven days a week. She cleans, sweeps and swabs floors, cooks and gives massages to her memsaabs (babies). Not long ago she got a cell phone – most often it has no prepaid balance as she is out of money. But she receives calls. And uses SpeedDial buttons for her sons and daughters which she has memorized. Ever since she got her phone, she has started dressing smarter and she now carries a purse instead of a plastic bag. She says it makes her feel like a working woman and not a maid servant. The phone is also hacking her?
  • Can you imagine living in a 3 bedroom house with 2 brothers, your in-laws and your own young family? Where your husband’s young unmarried brothers and their parents all share one bedroom and you’re given use of the living room for your husband, yourself and the kids?
  • And finally, Meet Reetu … a young bride …. who has a crying need for her own space which she is constantly negotiating. In India, nothing is really personal. Also think of her young brother-in-law Pankaj, who’s sharing a room with his sibling and parents and still manages to flirt with his girlfriend on his GPRS enabled phone via FB chat. Neither Reetu nor Pankaj wish to use the common PC at home as it is too public!. Next time you pull out your mobile think about how it or you have used it to hack intimacy, claim a private moment, or bring someone closer to you. Then rethink life experiences and how we are hacking them as a result.
  • In sharing these little stories new issues and questions begin to emerge ….. …. Some that have occurred to me …. What new publics can it bring into the technology fold? What new behaviours does it enable? What new needs and desires are being stoked? How do these people manage both the private and their public or collective they belong to? How does technology anchor into this way of organizing life? Finally what happens when hacking becomes very personal, just about me, my life, and my money. How will you help me hack my future?As we often say in India … one step, no, ‘hack’, at a time!Thanks for listening!!
  • Hacking Life - the India Way. SCS 2012 | Dina Mehta | A Convo Presentation

    1. 1. Jugaad: Art InstallationArchitect: Sanjeev Shankar
    2. 2. HackingLifethe India wayDina Mehtawww.convo.orgdina@convo.orgtwitter: @dina Picture by Flickr user Barneer
    3. 3. "overcoming harsh constraints by improvising an effective solution using limited resources - HBR" JugaadPictures by ourdelhistruggle.com “an innovative fix or a simple work- around, sometimes pejoratively used for solutions that bend rules” Wikipedia
    4. 4. Hacking money Hacking dignity Hackingpersonal spacePicture by Eric Rose – 3 Girls in Amritsar, India
    5. 5. “I changed my fathers style of working. I started using better materials like bleaching powder and Tinopol to give good service. I will do a computer course soon as it is essential in today’s world. I face a lot of competition and hope to use my phone and computer to offer better services”RaghuLAUNDRY OWNER. 32 YEARS.CHENNAI HackingMONEY
    6. 6. “My friend says ‘knowledge is power’ and I say no it is your thinking that is power. I am intelligent, I will not load my mind with all the information, I will only have internet so if I want something, I will go to Google. Why do you have to load your mind? You are there to create new-new things not load your mind with unwanted things”SachinKawleEXECUTIVE. 26 YEARS. BELGAUMNEWLY MARRIED HackingMONEY
    7. 7. Image Courtesy amreekandesi.com
    8. 8. “I live for the day when people will be forced to respect and admire me for my achievements. I want to bring my family out of poverty and improve our social standing so that people treat us with respect and dignity.” I am eagle …. I am diamond …NeelakshiDoshiWORKING STUDENT. 21 YEARS. MUMBAI Hacking DIGNITY
    9. 9. “Now the world is all about showing off. Suppose I have many things today but if I wear a torn saree, people feel that I don’t have anything. On the other hand even if I don’t have food at home to eat but I wear a $10 saree carry a $4 purse, and hold a $50 or $60 mobile in my hand, people will say that she has a good post and is quite well-off”Manisha ManeDOMESTIC HELP. 48 YEARS. MUMBAI Hacking DIGNITY
    10. 10. Hacking PERSONAL SPACE
    11. 11. I’m extremely attached to my phone – it is the ONLY thing that is ONLY mine. It creates a space for me that is very personal. I use it a lot to talk to my husband who does night shifts. We SMS each other too with sexy messages. And I’m constantly on Facebook chat with my brother and his fiancée, my old school friends and all my cousins. My mother-in-law has no idea!ReetuYOUNG BRIDE. 24 YEARS. DELHI Hacking PERSONAL SPACE
    12. 12. Thanks for listening!Dina Mehta@dinahttp://convo.orgdina@convo.org