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I have no language

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

On a current research exploration trip to rural Karnataka (India), organized by Khoj, I met Asha a middle aged woman ‘manning’ a roadside food stall across a railway station.

In course of our conversation she shared with me that she had always been using a ‘button’ (feature) phone until her daughter decided to upgrade her smart phone. She then became the owner of the hand down.

While her life has not dramatically changed, it sure has become a little more interesting. Apart from her regular calls Asha now indulges in viewing ‘served and suggested’ content on YouTube. Her daughter has taught her how to use ‘voice’ to search for her favorite and new recipes, all she needs from her smart device, for now.

“Your phone is set to English”, I remark. “Wouldn’t you prefer it be in Kannada (her local language)?”.

“I am completely uneducated”, she replies. “It doesn’t matter. All languages look the same to me”.

“Why English?” I ask.

“It looks good. I am getting used to recognizing certain forms (visual formation of the letters). I also hope that in time I will be able to learn the language which would be really good”.

I was amazed at how effortlessly Asha could point and recognize contacts in her list correctly without even being able to read a single word.

While we continue to chat, I begin to wonder - is language even important when it comes to usability? Would Asha be just as comfortable if her phone was set to Japanese or French?

Maybe only an Asha would be able to demonstrate the answer.

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