Yankee Nation, cell phone calls, and “pop” shed light on borders

4.27.2012 | Despite all the technology at our disposal, in many ways we are still products of place. That’s the conclusion of a fascinating article over at Atlantic Cities about borders.

The map at the left illustrates our cell phone calling patterns, detecting communities of callers within networks. Highly connected counties are grouped together by color. People in Missouri, for example, tend to call friends and family (and colleagues) in Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois. Equally fun is the maps for words we use or our sports allegiances.

The take-away message from these maps is that state lines miss a lot of regional connections.

My sister, who grew up northern Iowa, and my husband from Little Rock, reminisce about listening to KAAY (“The Mighty 1090″) AM radio station, beaming its high wattage music out of Little Rock late at night in the 1960s– an experience that joined them irrevocably as teenagers in a teen culture. But for the most part, they two were products of the regions they grew up in. Then along came technology, and the world got smaller, the borders and regions were erased, or so the story goes.

But yet, some things never change. As the maps show, we’re still very much wed to place, and those places are regions. The borders of the states mark political and administrative boundaries, but culturally and economically we’re more a country of regions. As the article notes:

New England is incontrovertibly a single region, connected by interaction, mobility, and culture. Similarly, certain states such as Texas and Kansas are their own distinctive regions.

On the other hand, New Jersey and California have a distinct bisection that divides them, though not always in the same way or place. For example, California is divided into Northern and Southern California, when we look at voice phone calls, but it’s divided into three sections, when we use digital text message records.

green is "soda"; black is "pop"; turquoise is “Coke”

Similarly for baseball fandoms. There’s Yankee Nation and Red Sox Nation, and likewise here in Chicago, there’s Cub’s territory butting up against Cardinals territory in St. Louis.

Perhaps the most recognizable regional division is with the word for soda/pop/Coke (see the map at the right). My husband, having lived in Chicago for decades, no longer calls everything “Coke” (although it was a slow habit to break), but my sister still says pop to this day. And they’re not alone.  Check out the maps–and figure out where your regional home is.

The boundaries we see in these various maps underscore the message that regions still define us, and state borders are only arbitrary lines when it comes to our patterns of living.

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