26 February 2009

Think you hate ringtones?

One of the interesting things about globalization is that, today, you see cell phones everywhere--especially in the Third World. And, just like in the US, ringtones can be about as annoying. For example, when I was in Honduras, I thought I had heard enough of Daddy Yankee's "Rompe" on the radio and in the clubs, until I started hearing it as a ringtone featured in Telomodo's package. Ringtones are the rage in Iraq as well, only there, ringtones aren't just annoying, they can be downright deadly, especially in a hotly-contested city such as Kirkuk.

Bus passengers in Kirkuk fire angry glances at Ahmed Ali as he takes a call on his mobile phone.

The young man soon realises why: the Kurdish song that serves as his ringtone singles him out as an ethnic Kurd on a bus used by many Arabs and Turkomans.

“Immediately after that, I changed my ringtone to the default one provided by the phone’s manufacturers,” said Ahmed Ali, who did not give his real name for security reasons.

In Iraq’s most diverse and disputed province, mobile phone ringtones play a big part in the politics of identity. Kirkuk contains most of Iraq’s many religious and ethnic groups, and has been described as everything from a colourful bouquet of flowers to a powderkeg.

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