What happens over time to Indians who spend their working hours answering phone calls from Americans—and acting like Americans themselves? To find out, the authors of Answer the Call conducted long-term interviews with forty-five agents, trainers, managers, and CEOs at call centers in Bangalore and Mumbai from 2003 to 2012. For nine or ten hours every day, workers in call centers are not quite in India or America but rather in a state of “virtual migration.” Encouraged to steep themselves in American culture from afar, over time the agents come to internalize and indeed perform Americanness for Americans—and for each other.
Call center agents “migrate” through time and through the virtual spaces generated by voice and information sharing. Drawing from their rich interviews, the authors show that the virtual migration agents undergo has no geographically distant point of arrival, yet their perception of moving is not merely abstract. Over the duration of the job, agents’ sense of place and time changes: agents migrate but still remain, leaving them somewhere in between—between India and America, experience and imagination, class mobility and consumption, tradition and modernity, here and there, then and now, past and future.
However tangible and elastic their virtual mobility might seem in these relatively lucrative jobs, it is also suspended within the confines of the very boundaries they migrate across. Having engaged with these vivid and often poignant interviews, readers will never again be indifferent to an Indian agent’s greeting at the other end of a toll-free call: “Hello, my name is Roxanne. How may I help you?”