Tag Archives: cell phones

Cell phones across borders



    Screen shot from YouTube site that has video of Los Pikadientes de Caborca

I’ve been doing a masters program at USC that specializes in online social networks, so I’m always thrilled when that topic merges with my long-standing interest in border subjects.

Vozmob, or Mobile Voices, is a project that provides a platform for low-wage immigrants in Los Angeles to publish stories and photos about their lives and communities through cell phones. The idea is that “marginalized populations lack access to digital technology yet aspire to participate meaningfully in the digital public sphere,” according to a project summary.

Here is an interview with USC professor Francois Bar, who explains the project in more depth.

Meanwhile USC professor Josh Kun recently wrote in The New York Times about how cell phones are creating new conduits for Mexican regional bands. The songs are uploaded to the phones or are used as ring tones. Then they spread virally through communities, underscoring how the regional Mexican industry is utilizing the cell phone as a “one-stop music source and symbol of working-class immigrant identity,” according to Kun’s story.

Kun, an expert in border culture topics, profiles the success of one of these bands, Los Pikadientes de Caborca, one of whose members readily admits that “we wouldn’t exist without cell phones and ring tones.”


* I work for USC’s media relations department but haven’t worked directly with these two professors * 

Can you hear me now?

(above: my former cell phone collection in Tijuana)


When I started working in Tijuana I remember thinking it somewhat strange yet plausible that some law enforcement officials could have two or three cell phones.

But, honestly, there’s something about the border that triggers cell phone creep. Maybe in some cases it’s about keeping your criminal contacts separate from your legit contacts, but I also think it’s in response to cell phone carrier coverage that constantly slips and slides along the border area. I could never quite predict in Tijuana whether my U.S. work cell phone would be in U.S. local zone or Mexican roaming/international territory.

Eventually, my company gave me a second work cell phone, this one with a Nextel radio. The radios drive people nuts with their beeping sounds (see the Stairs to Nowhere blog post here) but so many people have them in Tijuana that it’s almost a sure thing for regular communication. In fact, whenever you hear a Nextel beep everyone within a 5 foot radius is checking their pockets or purses for their Nextels. The radio alternative means you pay a flat service to reach anyone else with a Nextel on either side of the border, and that’s far cheaper than an international phone call. Alas, even the Nextel (now Sprint/Nextel) has its black zone areas. So having two work phones – with the radio – guaranteed that I could be reached at any time and vice versa for those crucial breaking news stories.

When I moved to Tijuana, I realized I should probably have a personal phone since I didn’t have a land line. So I got a Mexican local cell phone. Towards the end of my time at the paper I got another U.S. “charge it as you go” phone as I started to redirect my life north of the border. So at one time I had four phones to make sure I could meet all my communication needs north or south of the border.

I’m still waiting for the day when someone solves this problem. But in the meantime, I have learned not to rush to any conclusions when I see people walking around here with multiple phones.