In her new book, The Next Billion Users, Prof. Payal Arora looks ahead to the connection of hundreds of millions of new Internet users and sees huge changes for both the developing and developed worlds.
In India, for example, mobile broadband subscriptions jumped from 218 million to 500 million in just the two years following 2016. A notable consequence for these new users is the extension of "time-pass," which is what existing users of the Internet are quite familiar with already. But this time it will be those on the periphery of societies, earning barely a living wage, who will have a few moments in their day in which they can chat with a distant friend or family member, play an online game, or watch an amusing video.
The Internet will be a new experience for people in the developing world, but it will also be a return. It will be a return to inhabiting a world in which the surround of voice and noise are dominant. In such a social world, text recedes and the oral shifts to the foreground.
Walter J. Ong, who wrote, Orality and Literacy in 1982, argued that once, beginning in prehistory, we were oral. Time was polychronic, meaning that things were perceived to happen all at once, rather than in a linear way. The social group was all. Then we became literate. Time was perceived as allowing progression and development. Individuals could now occupy an interior space of contemplation and privacy.
With television and radio, song observed, we were oral again, but this time in the mode of secondary orality, which is based on literate culture - a hybrid. The voices and impulses of the social group again became more urgent, but this time drawing on and contributing to a textual body of knowledge and ideas.
In such a world we can expect stories to become even more dominant in public discourse, including advertising. This is because oral cultures value the accretive character of stories, meaning you can always add another story, new or revised.
We can also expect people to demand, and receive, more opportunities for participation - more invitations to speak and be heard. Participation requires a knowledge of the context and therefore people will want to understand their local situation more thoroughly.
Because of secondary orality, people will want to know more intensively how they are doing compared to others, economically and culturally. The answers they find will not always be accurate or fully true. But informational demands will fulfilled, correctly or with lies, because of the multiple connections offered by mobile communication technology.
This doesn't mean literacy is fully on the skids. Reading and writing still form a key part of the threshold to acquiring social, cultural, and economic capital. However, orality in its secondary mode, as Ong foresaw, is with us again in force. And along with it, the threats of prehistoric orality return: eyes continually set on the neighbour's business, close-in conflict always ready to ignite, and rapid swings in the village temperament.