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The Great Indian Phone Book

The Great Indian Phone Book

How the Cheap Cell Phone Changes Business, Politics, and Daily Life

Assa Doron, Robin Jeffrey

ISBN 9780674072688

Publication date: 04/02/2013

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In 2001, India had 4 million cell phone subscribers. Ten years later, that number had exploded to more than 750 million. Over just a decade, the mobile phone was transformed from a rare and unwieldy instrument to a palm-sized, affordable staple, taken for granted by poor fishermen in Kerala and affluent entrepreneurs in Mumbai alike. The Great Indian Phone Book investigates the social revolution ignited by what may be the most significant communications device in history, one which has disrupted more people and relationships than the printing press, wristwatch, automobile, or railways, though it has qualities of all four.

In this fast-paced study, Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey explore the whole ecosystem of the cheap mobile phone. Blending journalistic immediacy with years of field-research experience in India, they portray the capitalists and bureaucrats who control the cellular infrastructure and wrestle over bandwidth rights, the marketers and technicians who bring mobile phones to the masses, and the often poor, village-bound users who adapt these addictive and sometimes troublesome devices to their daily lives. Examining the challenges cell phones pose to a hierarchy-bound country, the authors argue that in India, where caste and gender restrictions have defined power for generations, the disruptive potential of mobile phones is even greater than elsewhere.

The Great Indian Phone Book is a rigorously researched, multidimensional tale of what can happen when a powerful and readily available technology is placed in the hands of a large, still predominantly poor population.


  • The conversation about [the cellphone’s] social effects usually takes the form of lamenting obnoxious people who text over dinner or hold one-way conversations on the elevator and expressing angst about ‘kids these days’ and their addiction to their mobile devices. Fortunately, we now have Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey’s The Great Indian Phone Book, which offers a comprehensive look at what cell phones have meant for India. Their story covers everything from family relations and gender barriers to terrorism and the relations of citizens to the state. Out of what could have been a dry study packed with statistics the authors have managed to write a superb book—informative, insightful, witty—that is essential reading for anyone interested in India, or technological change, or good stories told with clarity and purpose.

    —Isaac Chotiner, Wall Street Journal


  • Assa Doron is Professor of Anthropology and South Asia at the School of Culture, History, and Language, Australian National University.
  • Robin Jeffrey is Visiting Research Professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore, and an emeritus professor of La Trobe University (Melbourne) and the Australian National University (Canberra).

Book Details

  • 336 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-3/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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