Digital content wallah


This street entrepreneur (the first and only of his kind that I’ve
seen in Yangon) is camped out in front of a downtown movie theater, a
clever location on many levels; people naturally congregate here,
whether they are waiting for a movie to start, waiting in line to buy
tickets, waiting for a taxi after getting out of the movie, or just
loitering to nibble on all of the snacks of the various other vendors
who have been attracted to this place to compete for all of these
(possibly hungry) waiting people’s minds and wallets. A pleasant
little positive feedback loop powers this economic ecosystem.
Basically, all of this waiting counts as an appropriate time to take
out your mobile phone, whether to call someone who’s running late,
check the time, play Sudoku, or just show off your handset. The fact
that the digital-content wallah himself is playing is watching a movie
ensures that there is always a crowd of interested people observing
(sidenote: to what extent do the proprietors of the movie theater view
him as competition – his relative freedom to show almost any movie at
any time must be at least thought-provoking, at most terrifying).
Nothing attracts people like more people – crowds beget crowds. The
power to project the appeal of one’s wares out beyond the point of
sale is a powerful marketing tool.
Conveniently, his target market is also well-heeled enough that they
can afford to go to the movies (both in terms of money and time –
remember all that waiting involved!). While not a big deal for you
and I (most likely), going to the movies is a major milestone of
middle-class accomplishment in this context – much like cellphone
ownership (and the purchasing of custom content for said cellphone).

Another important aspect to this scene is the question below the
surface of so many streetside entrepreneurs, but especially in this
instance: Where is his electricity coming from? In this case, the
entrepreneur has forged an alliance with a powerful ally – namely the
movie theater (and why not, as he’s already indebted to them for
providing him a market – in for a penny, so why not a pound?). Along
with the adjacent lottery-ticket booth, the computer is plugged into
an extension cord that runs into the movie theater. If the power were
to suddenly cut out, he is able to rely upon a generator being turned
on almost immediately (after all, a theater audience can only sit
peacefully for so long inside of a dark, no-longer-air-conditioned
room with several hundred others and no privileged to a moving picture
show to captivate them). In the intervening time between the grid
cutoff and the generator spin up, the small black box to the right of
the CPU on the lower shelf is the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS),
basically a miniature car battery that grants a desktop user several
additional minutes of off-grid functionality to save their work and
shut down their computer (if they happen not to own a generator) or
hustle to turn on the generator. I wanted to unpack more of this
economic symbiosis, but my matinee was due to start.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s