How can the Internet of Things bring a sense of a human network to the UK High Street?
Gaganlist.com was set up by a local artist whose studio is based in the heart of a busy Indian technology market – Nerhu Place. Due to the densely populated market wireless Internet is almost impossible. Gagan a phone network to connect all the traders together so that the market could function more efficiently. Each trader had their own individual three digit phone number. If a trader does not have what the customer is looking for they will phone another trader who will have the product. The product will be brought to the customer and the original trader takes a small percentage of the sale. Everyone wins.
Nehru Pace is a market of different layers and complexities. There is the ground level, this feels like an entry level market, there are traders selling normal goods alongside street food traders. Then there is a market on the first floor of the buildings surrounding the market. These traders sell more complex and specialist goods. Then there was the underground market. Underneath the market there are narrow tunnels full of traders and services. These services and traders were even more specialist than the other floors.
The interconnectedness of the traders ran even deeper than a phone network. The traders who sold from a traditional shop space (typically a 3m x 3m room) sub-let the street space in front of the shop to other sellers and traders. In the space in front of the shop there would be a host of subletting traders utilising the street space and wall spaces. These subletting traders normally have some sort of reasoning. For example, outside a suit shop you may find a tailor, a tie seller, a shoe shiner, a shoe trader, a shoelace seller and a chai wallah. The service space even expands onto the road where there will most likely be an auto rickshaw waiting to take you to your next destination.
The suit shop sells products, and then as you walk out you enter the ‘service space’. Is this service space something that we can learn from? In India it helps foster community and economy. It creates a connection between shops, it allows for customisation, transparency, provenance and engagement with local traders. It can be through these service spaces that you can see things being made. You know exactly where your goods have come from. At the chicken shop you will see two things at the stall, chickens and dead chickens. There is absolute clarity in where your meat is coming from; there is absolute clarity of the living conditions of the chickens and the lack of preservatives. To some people this may look barbaric and may well put you off eating meat, but it is a healthy and transparent way of selling goods.
In India haggling is a standard procedure for most transactions on the street. It is most definitely friction. It slows the whole transaction process down and can even be a stressful of difficult process. I personally felt that it was a socially intriguing way of engaging with customers/traders. It forces a dialogue to happen within the transaction. Particularly with the auto drivers it can become a bit of a stand-off. We would know how much a journey should cost, say 50 Rupees, but because you look like a tourist they will go in with a price of 300 Rupees. The auto drivers will always hint the slightest smile after the haggling has taken place. It feels like it is a game for them. It gives you a chance to prove that you know the local economy and know how much a particular journey should cost.
Not all trades afford haggling. All transactions that happen on the street with the exception of food are haggled. There is a fairly strict code here. It may be tradition, pride or respect. If you try and tip a street food seller they will chase you down the street to give you your money back. Jon and Praveen encountered a book- seller at a market who had the rare sign of “Books are 100 Rupees, no haggling”. Again, this evidences the strong morals of selling culture that can be found in India. Jon and Praveen selected some books to buy, counted them up and gave the seller 100 Rupees per book. The seller looked confused and said that they had given him too much money, going on to explain that educational books are free.
What is it about the affordances of a space that suggest haggling? It is the outdoors, small independent sellers, sellers fighting to be heard on the streets?
Markets afford walking past (when you are in a shop you are a captive audience), traders need to engage in conversation with the buyer to get their attention; the theatre of haggling can create this engagement. It is almost as if the traders have a set script that the reel off as part of the haggling process. The process of haggling tends to follow the predictable standard plot to any story, introduction, conflict, rising action, climax, and resolution.
Hacking the Market
Market sellers make the most of the spaces available to them. They use the streets, the walls and the ceilings. Electricity will be hacked to power their shops and stands; creating a spider web of used and un-used cables everywhere. Thoughtless acts are everywhere you look, Jane Fulton Suri would have a field- day. Street food sellers will decorate their carts in certain ways to signify what food they are selling. Creating a uniform visual language for the market amongst the chaos.
Everywhere in India affords selling. Anything and everywhere is a market opportunity. Whilst walking around a park Jon and I were approached by a man who proceeded to tell us a series of facts. We did not engage with this man, he later looks at us waiting for his payment. This creates a weird moment of friction where someone has provided you with an un-asked-for service and then expects payment. Whilst on a climbing trip in the Indian countryside the locals saw a market opportunity at the cliffs. The locals would trek up to the cliffs where climbers were and try and sell them Chai, cakes and drugs. The traders and market both seem to be very adaptable, modular and seamless. By day a market will be selling food, by night it will become home to the cows, which will be looked after by the traders and fed old food. It is this social ecosystem that creates such bustling messy environment, unlike the more sterile and organised scene of the UK High Street.