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Mobile phone repair at Karol Bagh Market

I love these pictures:

I link-blogged that article ages ago, but I keep thinking of it, so it’s worth a proper post in its own right, to expand on that.

These guys work at an Indian mobile phone repair stall in Karol Bagh Market, in Delhi. The blog entry notes:

As in China, many of the mobile phone shops and street kiosks offer mobile phone repair service. Many of these guys can strip and rebuild a mobile phone in minutes. … a lot of the hyperbole surrounding western hacker culture makes me smile compared to what these guys are doing day in day out.

Also, a commenter notes: ‘in india, for about 1$, you can convert a CDMA phone to GSM !! also, they can unlock phones and do a veriety of hacks for little money.’

There’s so many lessons I’m getting from it:

  1. I’ve had a shoe resoled in 5 minutes for next to nothing at a stall not too different from that — but this is a mobile phone. It’s amazing to think of that level of hardware hacking taking place every day at a back-street market stall.

  2. Those phones were doubtless planned, as a product, with a ‘ship back to manufacturer’ support plan. That clearly isn’t going to fly without that developed-world luxury, Fedex. So this is the developing-world street finding its own uses for things, and working around the dependencies on systems that are optimised for the developed world.

  3. It’s the flip-side of Joshua Ellis’ grim meathook future, where we’re not facing down the barrel of a New-Orleans-style descent into barbarity if the power suddenly cuts out; tech can go on. It may be a little chunkier, though, and with more duct tape, but hey.

  4. It’s also a beautiful demonstration of how those of us in the developed world who assume that developing-worlders cannot find a use for high tech, are talking shit. (cf. Ethan Zuckerman as a good example of someone who gets this, more than almost anyone else I can think of.)

I think this is one of the most important lessons I learned while travelling through India and SE Asia a few years back — the developing world is using high tech, and it’s not using it in the same ways we do — or even the ways we anticipated, and we have plenty to learn from them too.

Found at Jan Chipchase’s site, which is full of great contemplation on this stuff. (The story on Seoul’s selca culture is nuts, too — it’s like Flickr^1000.)

(PS: I have a wisdom tooth extraction scheduled for next Friday… wish me luck. That’s another thing you don’t want to happen in the developing world, although I daresay it’d rock in Bangkok!)

(Update: clarification — my cite of Ethan Z was meant as a compliment ;)