Sense, Value, Force in Indian Mobile Phone Cultures

Posted: January 20, 2010 in Clinamen, Deleuze, Ecology of Sensation, New Media, Perception, Swarms
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According to Deleuze, Nietzsche’s favorite method is to consider a thing’s plurality of senses depending on the many forces that can take possession of it (N+P 143). Thus there are many types of religions depending on the forces dominant and minor in it. This method is particularly useful in considering media today. There are many forces that can take possession of various kinds of media, giving it a multiplicity of senses; many forces struggle for dominance, to lay claim to the sense of a given media. I am thinking right now specifically of the cellphone: what are the forces that have taken possession of mobile culture? These forces aim to change the direction of the media itself, more or less controlling or affecting its various processes (N+P 154).

Let’s recall a crucial dimension of Deleuze’s argument regarding sense, value, force taken from my last post: The dialectic misinterprets force (that which appropriates phenomena), affect (relational capacities, emergent properties), and becoming (phase transitions of nonlinear systems far from equilibrium). More, the dialectic, as Deleuze notes in his conclusion, is defined by three great ideas: 1. the idea of a power of the negative as a theoretical principle manifested in opposition and contradiction; 2. the idea of suffering and sadness have value, the valorization of the “sad passions”, as a practical principle manifested in splitting and tearing apart; 3. the idea of positivity as a theoretical and practical product of negation itself (195). What organizes these three great ideas? A false conception of difference, according to Deleuze, a conception of difference which substitutes the negation of the other for the affirmation of self (196); a negative, binary difference that is inextricably tied to representation, bad conscience, and ressentiment. Slave morality and dialectical difference are of a piece.

What would be the correct interpretation of force, affect and becoming? A diagram that would itself take thinking to its n-th power, reconnect and push thought to the fullest of what its affect can do, and thereby engage in unpredictable processes of becoming. In short, this leads to a new way of feeling or sensing through an intensive imbrication in ecologies of sensation; a new way of thinking, with “predicates other than divine ones; for the divine is still a way of preserving man and of preserving the essential characteristic of God, God as attribute” (163); and a new way of evaluating, “not an abstract transposition nor a dialectical reversal, but a change and reversal in the element from which the value of values derives, a ‘transvaluation’” (163).

Diagramming ecologies of sensation that lead to a transvaluation: the aim of media assemblage critique. For Indian mobile culture one key dimension is global consumerism—its vector is partly captured by the phrase “Global Access.”

Mobile phone store, Marathahalli, Bangaluru, Jan. 2010

To accede to a global image one consumes certain objects—callback tunes, wallpapers, applications, GPS, emails, data of all kinds; games, etc—at a certain rate (prepaid, postpaid, signal strength, kb/sec). In India, there is the national regulatory regime that auctions bandwidth for 2G and 3G service providers; they determine a certain regime of passage, as Massumi suggests in another context. This from a recent report in the Times of India, 1-22-10, pg. 1:

Pre-paid mobiles back in J&K, with strict checks: The Centre withdrew its unpopular decision to ban pre-paid mobile phone connections in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday with the department of telecommunications comin gout with a very strict verification guideline for existing as well as new subscribers….The ban on all new pre-paid connections as well as renewal of existing ones was imposed on November 1 last year as the security agencies found that the mobile connections, especially pre-paid ones, were being used extensively by terrorist organizations. These groups include groups functioning from Pakistan-oppupied Kashmir (PoK).

At last count, the government agencies were involved in re-verifying 3.8 million mobile phone accounts. This contradicts (at the level of state discourse, contradictions abound) in some sense the avowed aim of TRAI:

“Our Mission: The mission of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is to ensure that the interests of consumers are protected and at the same time to nurture conditions for growth of telecommunications, broadcasting and cable services in a manner and at a pace which will enable India to play a leading role in the emerging global information society” (, accessed 1-19-10).

We will return to this contradiction and try to pose the kinds of intensive processes operating beneath it.

State agencies are by and large responding to one of the most important forces that struggle to give mobile technology various senses: human multiplicities. These are the stratified populations of consumers (the long-tails to the corporate types)—their use patterns, personalization discourses, their economic capacities, herd dynamics, their bodily habits tying communication activity to the machinic phylum.

Walking through central Mumbai, Dec. 2009

There are the grey marketers of services, sales, and repair…from high end Mobile Stores to street vendors to recharge (top up)/mobile repair shops like Roop Electronics. Roop Electronics is located in a lower middle class Hindu village in Khadar gaon, near Sarita Vihar in South East Delhi.

There are the handset makers, global companies that vie for a rare substance: Columbite-tantalite – coltan for short – one of the world’s most sought-after materials. Refine coltan and you get a highly heat-resistant metal powder called tantalum. It sells for $100 a pound, and it’s becoming increasingly vital to modern life. For the high-tech industry, tantalum is magic dust, a key component in everything from mobile phones made by Nokia and Ericsson and computer chips from Intel to Sony stereos and VCRs (Kristi Essick, “Guns, Money and Cell Phones,”, accessed 1-19-10). Coltan is extracted from high exploitation mines, where workers die for the sake of this fool’s gold. Coltan feeds the mobile handset manufacturers, whose products span the current range of economic capacities and mobile functionalities. There are the service providers, and India has the most competitive service provider market in the world, with 14 firms competing for the billion plus population (Pinky, the nanny’s 13 year old sister, is humming the Docomo tune…du too tu do too tu…). The service providers want more enrollment, more talk time billed, more kinds of services habituated, better coverage, more bars (indicating connectivity) more often. And finally but not last is the MVAS companies: mobile value added services.

Traditional VAS has been primarily SMS-based, with Bollywood and Cricket the largest content drivers– VAS services contribute approx 7% of total wireless telecom revenues for Indian operators – Total market size of VAS was USD 678 mn in 2006, projected to touch USD 926 mn at the end of 2007 – Most VAS services are provided over SMS, IVR and WAP. Revenue growth has been driven by SMS (including P2P, A2P, P2A), contributing over 55% of total VAS revenues in 2006 – Bollywood & cricket remain the killer content, whether for SMS alerts, ringtones / CRBT, games, wallpapers, etc. – Rural applications initiatives have launched in pilots, and are likely to grow quickly in less developed geographies because of the willingness to spend on services which enhance livelihood (“Future of Mobile VAS in India,” Stanford University and BDA, December 2007, 3)

What does this industry value in mobile phone culture? This is how they summarize contemporary global conditions:

The global mobile phones market generated total revenues of $114.3 billion in 2007, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.8% for the period spanning 2003-2007. Market consumption volumes increased with a CAGR of 21.3% between 2003-2007, to reach a total of 1 billion units in 2007. The performance of the market is forecast to follow a similar pattern, with an anticipated CAGR of 12.1% for the five-year period 2007-2012, which is expected to drive the market to a value of $202.7 billion by the end of 2012. (“Global Mobile Phones,”, Dec. 2008, accessed 1-19-10).

Now Deleuze argues that typologizing these objects in terms of forces and sense is only part of the point. One must take into account the higher degree (143). But what does the “higher” mean here? Is this a simple hierarchy of forces? Is this a banal elitism of forces?

That would be the stupid interpretation of what both Nietzsche and Deleuze mean by higher degree. Deleuze adds a further characterization: an affinity of forces. When an object has a relatively high affinity of forces it has many dimensions of change (as Manuel Delanda puts it in Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy); its affective potential is higher (both quantitatively and qualitatively) than less affine objects (objects having a mutual affinity). Its plane of connectivity, its virtual plane, is active and dynamic, complexly patterned, nonlinearly connected, embedded in a unpredictable ecology of sensation.

In that sense we can consider the mobile phone to be a relatively higher degree of media, not in the sense that it is better, but in that it has a high degree of force-affinity. For instance, the way value added services are integrating the mobile with other media is also tapping into other habits, and other flows of life.

In my next post I will attempt to connect what I have been calling clinamedia to Rossiter’s institutional analysis of forms of networked connectivity and the question of justice.

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