The Next Billion Users: Digital Life Beyond the West

The Next Billion Users: Digital Life Beyond the West

by Payal Arora

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A digital anthropologist examines the online lives of millions of people in China, India, Brazil, and across the Middle East—home to most of the world’s internet users—and discovers that what they are doing is not what we imagine.

New-media pundits obsess over online privacy and security, cyberbullying, and revenge porn, but do these things really matter in most of the world? The Next Billion Users reveals that many assumptions about internet use in developing countries are wrong.

After immersing herself in factory towns, slums, townships, and favelas, Payal Arora assesses real patterns of internet usage in India, China, South Africa, Brazil, and the Middle East. She finds Himalayan teens growing closer by sharing a single computer with common passwords and profiles. In China’s gaming factories, the line between work and leisure disappears. In Riyadh, a group of young women organizes a YouTube fashion show.

Why do citizens of states with strict surveillance policies appear to care so little about their digital privacy? Why do Brazilians eschew geo-tagging on social media? What drives young Indians to friend “foreign” strangers on Facebook and give “missed calls” to people? The Next Billion Users answers these questions and many more. Through extensive fieldwork, Arora demonstrates that the global poor are far from virtuous utilitarians who mainly go online to study, find jobs, and obtain health information. She reveals habits of use bound to intrigue everyone from casual internet users to developers of global digital platforms to organizations seeking to reach the next billion internet users.

Editorial Reviews

D+C - Hans Dembowski

Convincingly points out that the promises of technology itself bridging educational divides have not come true…Arora's core message is that the youth in developing countries are like their peers everywhere…Their basic motivations, however, do not differ from those of other people. The limitations they face in daily life reappear in the digital sphere.

Engineering and Technology - Nick Smith

Superb…Uncomfortable, myth-busting, and compelling, The Next Billion Users challenges our collective superiority complexes and questions the way we see technology in the connected world.

Times Higher Education

This powerful book explores actual online lives in China, India and Brazil and asks why many of us in the West are surprised and sometimes offended by the fact that the impoverished are just as committed as we are to the search for ‘moments of pleasure and joy.’

The Nation - Evan Malmgren

Arora shows that many of the world’s poor don’t seek out the Internet as a tool to become more productive, but as a welcome outlet for economically ‘unproductive’ play…That the Internet fails as a magical cure-all for historical circumstance may be unwelcome news to techno-utopians and overzealous development practitioners, but there is hope in its capacity to augment and expand human leisure beyond the realm of material advancement.

Digital Society Forum - Irenaeus Regnauld

A ‘must-read’ for anyone interested in digital uses around the world…A priceless study, tremendously documented.

Strategy + Business - Theodore Kinni

The conventional storyline around the transformative effect of technology on people’s lives often doesn’t ring true…Any leader whose company sees the global poor as a key market will find its reality-based view of the intended customers bracing and useful.

YourStory - Madanmohan Rao

Payal’s findings show that the global poor use online media not just to study, find jobs, and obtain health information, but also seek pleasure, visibility, leisure, and entertainment. In the process, they negotiate issues of privacy, interaction and social tradition.

Justin van Fleet

A must-read for any individual seeking to promote economic growth and development in the digital age. Arora’s deeply rooted research exposes digital stereotypes as well as the perils and opportunities that exist at the interplay of culture, technology, regulation, commerce, and the next generation of digital users.

Shaun Wiggins

Whether you are a government agency seeking to bring public goods and services to underprivileged citizens, a multinational corporation entering emerging markets, or an NGO implementing aid, The Next Billion Users is essential, data-driven reading that will guide your digital and real-world strategies.

Marwan Kraidy

This book is a feat—insightful, poignant, riveting. Through detailed case studies and interviews, Payal Arora rewrites the story of our relationship to digital technology from a truly global perspective. Her conclusions are as surprising as they are revealing about the future of social media, gaming, mobile phones, and online commerce and education.

Ronaldo Lemos

The Next Billion Users is mandatory reading for anyone interested in understanding the future of technology or designing applications that are truly valuable for the majority of the people on the planet.


Extremely enlightening in regard to preconceived Western notions of the Global South and the impact of new technologies on the poor.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674983786
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 02/25/2019
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 280
Sales rank: 784,502
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

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