That ubiquitous little device, which has now turned into an obligatory accessory, could be more than just a cell phone or as the current trend goes, more than just a smartphone.

Cell phones, says Robin Bannerman Jeffrey, noted social scientist from the Institute of South Asian Studies of the National University of Singapore, are not anymore instruments that offer mobility. On the larger perspective, for which the mobile phone penetration and usage in India serve as examples, the device is one that offers ‘autonomy’ and ‘networked individualism.’

Delivering a lecture organised under the aegis of the Kerala University’s Department of History on the Karyavattom campus here, as part of the 33rd annual conference of the South Indian History Congress, on Thursday, Mr. Jeffrey noted how cell phones had even turned into personal albums.

Even daily wage migrant labourers preferred to spend money to buy a cell phone than to eat properly, so that they could be in touch with their far-off families, carry around their pictures and family albums while for the more upward class, it was everything from business mail servers to internet banking devices and much more.

The difference the cell phone had made in India was evident from the fact that while a few decades ago, less than 100 persons in every 1,000 had a telephone, figures of April 2012 said about 700 out of every 1,000 persons had cell phones now.

The ‘little boxes,’ which slowly became ‘little connected boxes,’ had now grown into instruments of ‘networked individualism.’

Citing examples from States, including Bihar, Mr. Jeffrey noted how politicians were using cell phones to be in touch directly with their election booths during polls, using them to get things done faster and to get across to a larger audience with their campaigns.

Mr. Jeffrey’s book on the cell phone revolution in India, ‘Cell Phone Nation’ would be released in New Delhi shortly.

Robin Jeffrey’s book ‘Cell Phone Nation’ will be released in New Delhi shortly.