by Hayley Steele
Each year, hundreds of people lose their lives crossing the desert from Mexico into the United States. In response to this tragedy, members of Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab have designed the Transborder Immigrant Tool (TBT).
To create the TBT, they took a Motorola i455 cell phone and cracked the GPS applet to create a simple compass-like navigation system. Motorola i455s can be obtained for less than $30, and are even cheaper on eBay. Besides assisting with basic navigation, the TBT shows where to find water left by Border Angels, where to find Quaker help centers, how far you are from the highway – things that could save the life of someone making the crossing.
Besides being a practical navigation tool, the TBT is also a work of art, and includes recordings of poetry on sustenance and survival in multiple languages written by poet Amy Sara Carroll, a member of the group.
As Amy explains, “…often—rightly enough—conversations about crossing the Mexico-U.S. border refer to disorientation, sun exposure, lack of water. The Transborder Immigrant Tool attempts to address those vicissitudes, but also to remember that the aesthetic—freighted with the unbearable weight of ‘love’— too, sustains.”
The design-phase of the TBT was completed two years ago. In November 2009, the group was preparing to distribute the device through NGOs, churches, and other communities south of the border. However, the mainstream media – with Fox News at its forefront – threw a fit, leading to investigations of group members, three of whom are professors at the University of California in San Diego. “Can public funds be used to break the law?” was the premise of these investigations. But since when was it illegal to save people’s lives?!
Ricardo Dominguez, a spokesperson for the project, recently did a brief interview with Slingshot member Hayley Steele, revealing the latest news.
Hayley: How has distribution been going? Has it been difficult getting the Transborder Immigration Tool into the right people’s hands?
Ricardo: Due to the intense investigation of the project during 2010 by both my own institution (UCSD) and the call by three Republican Congressmen to have the project stopped – we (Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab) were not able to move forward with the distribution of the project. Our/my legal counsel advised against doing this part of the project till the investigation was over.
Hayley: A few people at the Slingshot Collective expressed concern about Border Patrol agents finding a way to track people who are using the TBT through the surveillance devices embedded in cell phones. How was this issue addressed in the TBT’s design?
“…often—rightly enough—conversations about crossing the Mexico-U.S. border refer to disorientation, sun exposure, lack of water. The Transborder Immigrant Tool attempts to address those vicissitudes, but also to remember that the aesthetic—freighted with the unbearable weight of ‘love’— too, sustains.”
Ricardo: TBT is a single-bounce GPS device, only to be turned on once at the start of the journey and then turned off—and not to be turned on again until it is needed. This single bounce activates the database of locative wave-points to current water caches left out by NGOs in Southern California. From that point on TBT does not attempt to connect to any GPS signal or any other signal. This disallows any triangulation to take place—unless the user who is lost in the desert turns on the cell phone function and is lucky enough to reach a signal to dial 911 and allow for possible triangulation.
Hayley: Is it possible for individuals to independently download the TBT onto their own cell phone? If so, would they need to disable certain surveillance devices on their phone to prevent being tracked?
Ricardo: As I mentioned, it is a database, so it can be altered to create any kind of walking tool. Brett Stalbaum, a new media artist and co-founder of EDT 1.0/2.0, has a website where you can download the code (without the water cache location wave-points). This will allow anyone to develop a TBT-like gesture for any border situation or for any type of locative art project.
Hayley: If someone is interested in assisting with border-disturbance technology, how might they best get involved?
Ricardo: We always need cell phones, so if you have a working cell phone of any type and want to send it to us – that would be great. Just contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you want to download the code and work on expanding it in other ways. Also if you speak and write in another language, we welcome translations of the poems on TBT. Or if you have extra funds—please donate to Water Station Inc. or Border Angels, they are really the core of what is the most important aspect of TBT. Of course if you have the time to come down on the weekends to help fill up the water caches around the Imperial Valley Desert, Anza Borrego Park and the surrounding areas that would be of great help.
The members of Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab are: Micha Cárdenas, Dr. Amy Sara Carroll, Elle Mehrmand, Brett Stalbaum, and Ricardo Dominguez. Check out their website at: bang.calit2.net or www.walkingtools.net for the code.