The Digital Imagination: Mobile Phones and Internet in the Global South
In the realm of digital technologies, imagination is often evoked to describe the creative process that visionary creators of technology go through as they invent the technological future. In contrast, I describe the idea of gaining a “digital imagination” as a process through which the non-elite, in this specific case potential and new users of digital technologies in the Global South, envision something that is not yet part of their lives and thus begin appropriating it. The digital imagination is therefore a framing that prefigures the everyday uses of technology, and is shaped by individual aspirations, the organization of society, and the images and depictions of digital media that exist in the surrounding environment. Drawing on my ethnographic research in Myanmar and rural China, I describe three areas that contribute to nourishing the digital imagination: the external media ambience that surrounds people, composed of television and radio, films, and ads; individual aspirations and their interaction with the social milieu where people live; and the downside of digital imagination, that is misunderstandings and negative perceptions of digital technologies.
Elisa Oreglia (PhD, UC Berkeley) is a lecturer in Global Digital Media at the Centre for Media Studies, SOAS, University of London. She studies the appropriation of digital media among marginal users in China and Myanmar, with a particular focus on local knowledge production and information sharing practices.