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Ringtone Diplomacy

While traveling in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase happened upon a group of monks playing soccer. The young monks quickly invited him in from the cold, but not only out of kindness. "They invite[d] me into the warmth for a reason," Chipchase later recalled, "to mine the memory of my phone of all ...

While traveling in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase happened upon a group of monks playing soccer. The young monks quickly invited him in from the cold, but not only out of kindness. "They invite[d] me into the warmth for a reason," Chipchase later recalled, "to mine the memory of my phone of all its value." Once upon a time, a Marlboro or a stick of Wrigley’s gum was a traveler’s best hope for winning over a skeptical Siberian hotel manager or a surly Mexican policeman. But today locals are as likely to want ringtones, digital photos, or MP3 music. The young monks, Chipchase says, were "particularly interested in obtaining photos of women from Japan." He has encountered similar situations everywhere from India to Uzbekistan. So has Israeli venture capitalist Jon Medved. Recently, while on top of a remote bluff in Baja California, Mexico, Medved wanted to get a local’s opinion. He broke the ice by transferring short video clips to the guy’s phone. "People use cigarettes as tips," Medved says. "I think digital content is the new cigarettes." The best part may be all the extra room in your suitcase.

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