Rahul Mukherjee, University of Pennsylvania
Chinese DVD players have sold well in the formal, informal, and piratical markets of India in the first decade of the 21st century (Sundaram, 2010). Lately, with music videos and films being shared and watched through microSD cards (and bluetooth) inserted into mobile phones, the DVD players have had to undergo transformations to remain socioeconomically viable. I have three key research questions: a) How platforms like DVD and other audio-video players have transformed over the last five years as a result of changes in mobile media assemblage which include mobile phones, mobile phone shops, microSD cards, and new consumers. b) How do users creatively engage with platforms and how does that lead to platforms facilitating new distribution circuits for local and translocal content? c) If platforms help content move translocally, do they also make themselves relevant for transregional movement?
Based on my ethnographic research of local music video circulation in Mewat (Haryana) and Gaya (Bihar), I examine popular perceptions and usage of China-made DVD players equipped with microSD and USB slots. Now, DVD players no longer just play DVDs, but also content from SD cards and pen drives. Furthermore, microSD cards are no longer read and played through mobile phones only. In intermedial “intra-actions” (Barad, 2007) with mobile phones, DVD players transform into multi-media players, providing a platform for a wide variety of formatted content to play, and thereby serving to reroute video distribution into and away from “old” and “new” mobile media assemblages. “Platform” has emerged in the discourse of digital industries as a way to showcase computational infrastructure supporting social media applications and user-generated content (Gillespie, 2010). While retaining this understanding, I want to stress platform’s foundational/supportive characteristic for user expression and sociality, its ability to move across transnational contexts (Yong Jin, 2015), and its regional specificities (Steinberg, 2014).
While one approach presumes that China made electronic goods are popular in India merely because they are cheap, another line of inquiry suggests that Chinese DVD players are better equipped to provide particular local populations in India the kind of audio-visual sensorium they desire. microSD cards and USB sticks are small, inconspicuous, and easy-to-carry for particular community members I study such as the Mewati community where the content (Mewati music videos) they want to watch, share, and carry is partially censored or looked down upon. (microSD cards also afford easy rewriting and compressed storage.) Similar uses of Chinese portable DVD players can be seen in North Korea where they are called “notel” or “notetel” literally meaning notebook plus television. Notel has USB and SD card ports along with provisions to play DVDs, and this multi-functional versatility allows Notel users in Pyongyang to evade state censorship and surveillance while watching K-pop imported from South Korea (Pearson, 2015).
The platforms themselves might generate affective associations with other popular consumer products: new China made audio players being sold in rural Gaya (in India) are made of Gillette shaving cream or Coke bottle casings equipped to play music through USB and microSD cards (but not CDs or cassettes). The new micro-SD enabled Coke bottle audio-players represent contemporary digital media in places of India where streaming is at best a presumption. These are platforms and economies of the digital to be found in places which are “extranet,” that is beyond Internet (Neeves and Sarkar, forthcoming). These micro-SD audio players are to be found in mobile phone shops that also sell solar panel enabled mobile phone chargers because such shops are located in regions that are off the electricity grid in India. Such a context is critical to understand the dynamism of emerging digital platforms in so-called developing world where people continue to express themselves in a world not of digital divide but of differentiated digital access. Through my fieldwork into formal and informal practices of using these players, I suggest that platform studies could be enriched by observing how an amateur community of users and enthusiasts creatively, experimentally, and playfully use new platforms. Such digital audio-players used by Indian rural youth as they ride in bicycles listening to the latest vernacular Bhojpuri song might be juxtaposed media archaeologically with experiences of using Sony Walkman and iPods (Apperley and Parikka, 2015).
Finally, my intervention is to move beyond the Information and Communication for Development (ICT4D) paradigm: I aim to not merely conduct the discussion of instrumental uses of platforms but also to examine their ability to provide pleasurable entertainment and meaningful aesthetic experiences. Elaborating on the above-mentioned examples of audio-video players, I posit that texts and formats, content and platforms, representation and distribution need to be studied in their radical entanglement as we think of not only affective movements of content across East Asia and South Asia but also the translocal flows of platforms. Here I understand affect to be both emotion and embodied sensation. While the content might generate affective feelings in audiences/viewers, the mobilities and affordances offered by the multi-media platforms contribute toward making possible particular contexts/situations and phenomenological worlds of watching and listening in the everyday lives of platform users.
Apperley, Thomas and Parikka, Jussi (2015), “Platform Studies’ Epistemic Threshold,” Game and Culture, 1-22.
Barad, Karen (2007), Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning, London: Duke University Press.
Gillespie, Tarleton (2010), “The Politics of ‘Platforms’,” New Media & Society, 12(3): 347-364.
Neeves, Joshua and Sarkar, Bhaskar (forthcoming) “Introduction” in Asian Video Cultures: In the Penumbra of the Global
Pearson, James (2015), “The $50 device that symbolizes a shift in North Korea,”
Reuters, Mar 27, Available: http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/27/usnorthkoreachangeinsight-idUS...
Steinberg, Marc (2014), “Platform Dominance, Contents Strategies,” ARTHEMIS lecture Concordia University, February 7. Available: http://arthemiscinema.ca/en/video/platform-dominance-content-strategies-...
Sundaram, Ravi (2009), Pirate Modernity: Delhi's Media Urbanism. London: Routledge.
Yong Jin, Dal (2015), Digital Platforms, Imperialism, and Political Culture, New York: Routledge.