By Alvin Starkman, M.A., J.D.
Infrastructure together with socio-economic and political matters continue to be problematic in Oaxaca, but there have been gains which impact all of us. So here are the top ten technological advancements that I’ve noticed over the past decade or so, the only caveat being that to me they are technological, but to others they may be minor improvements and little more.
- Bank branches have been expanding their complement of ATMs at a furious pace, recognizing that the clients of financial institutions are finally becoming a little more technologically sophisticated and not as afraid as previously to trust machines when it comes to doing banking operations such as withdrawing funds, paying bills, printing out transaction histories, etc.
- Not only those same financial institutions, but also much more modest retail outlets, are installing computerized “take a number” systems, a change from the past, which has been characterized by long lineups and arguing who got there first.
- Vehicular traffic flow, at least in and around the state capital of Oaxaca, appears to be improved as a result of a better functioning computer traffic light system; you can actually drive from a north suburb to the heart of downtown on all greens, of course depending on the time of day.
- IMSS (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social), the Mexican national healthcare insurance plan, has become extremely streamlined, both in the system for renewing annual membership and making appointments to see family doctors as well as specialists. The coordination, facilitated by an online system, cuts down on waiting times. No longer does one have to plan a complete day around making an appointment or going for laboratory workups.
- Many craft workshops in the villages which were previously “cash only” in part due to spotty Internet, now use a tiny little apparatus not much larger than a business card, sometimes known as a Clip Reader, to have easy and reliable access to credit card authorization.
- If you sign a contract and have a good credit rating, the cost of making unlimited cellular phone calls using the Telcel network, to anywhere in the US, Canada and Mexico, is now only 215 pesos per month or less than $11 USD; and it even applies while visiting the two countries to the north. And, Telcel throws in a complimentary smart phone to boot.
- Regarding cellular phones more generally, over the past decade their usage in cities, towns and villages has exploded. Until the “revolution,” many residents did not have access to telephones at all because of 1) the cost of securing a stationary line for your house, and 2)the lack of coverage, lines, trunks, etc, in parts of cities, meaning it often took years for people to have their own line … if they could afford its installation in the first place. But now, almost everyone has at least 20 – 30 pesos, all that is needed to buy a minimal amount of time.
- Government programs have begun to subsidize 100% of the cost of solar panels in rural areas where households and businesses, including artisanal mezcal factories, either have had no traditional electricity available or have relied on generators. In fact over the past decade, 42,000 solar modules have been installed nationally, with the ability to sell back unused solar produced energy to the federal electricity commission (CFE).
- CFE now upon request issues householders a smart card, enabling users to select their own payment date, pay much more rapidly and efficiently than previously, determine if their meter is not working properly or if you are at risk of being disconnected for non-payment, even cut off power temporarily (i.e. if on vacation, out of the country, etc.) by simply holding the card up to the hydro meter, and more: http://www.info7.mx/seccion/como-utilizar-la-tarjeta-inteligente-de-la-cfe/707196
- And of course, there are advancements on social media platforms, particularly important in the state of Oaxaca, such as the Facebook group Bloqueos y Accidentes Oaxaca and other similar online sites each of which enables visitors and residents alike to learn of street, highway and intersection blockades, marches and accidents as they occur and as they are cleared, helping us all to plan our days more efficiently.
Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com), teaching both spirits aficionados and novices alike about Mexico’s iconic spirit, agave, and the fascinating culture of Oaxaca’s artisanal distillers, all through visiting quaint rural villages peppering the state’s central valleys.