Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Englisi sohbat mikoni?

When I began thinking about moving from my old home to a new one, I considered using it to practice my Persian, which I took up about a year ago. That plan fell by the wayside, in part because my formal studies ended with my graduation. Running across this site however has once again piqued my interest in attempting to create my own multi-language blog.

My discovery of this blog also reminded me of importance language plays in the networking and social dynamics of the internet. I often forget the inherent anglophone (or at least Latin script) bias present in cyberspace. Knowing the Latin script is practically a requisite for using the internet. While for much of the world this isn't so much of a problem (thanks to colonization), it is still quite prohibitive to many populations, both in regions where other scripts are primary and of course to the vast numbers of illiterate people. These points are obvious, but also vital to any study of the socio-political implications of the internet. I think they should also play a more direct role in the campaigns of cyber-activists who promote the internet as means of promoting democracy.

Back to multi-language blogs, I think this is provides a wonderful opportunity for world citizens to establish dialogue. Perhaps blogs should be required in language courses? As far as the use of English as the langua franca of the internet, there are both negative and positive aspects to this. I guess it is natural for people to find a medium of communication through which they can achieve greater exposure. On the other hand, all the questions of Ameri/Eurocentrism come into play. For the internet to be truly populist, it seems a constant tug of war is necessary. Then again, perhaps this is where the importance of bridgeblogs come into play.

I'll try to be more coherent in the future.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

WSJ Op-Eds: US Policy and Blogging

Today's Wall Street Journal had two op-eds that particularly caught my eye. The first dealt with the question of the suggestion put forth by the Iraq panel that the US begin negotiations with Iran and Syria. The opinion, written by Stanford's Abraham Sofaer, positioned itself as the "Reagan strategy" to hostile countries. I found the general sentiment a sound one. I especially agree with the idea of limited and segmented negotiations with the two countries on less controversial issues. As Sofaer put it, "The distrust between the U.S. and Irani suggests that negotiations between them should commence on limited issues, in a noncontroversial forum." His suggestion of the U.S./Iran tribunal at the Hague was an interesting one. I feel that Bush's policy of complete rejection and pre-condition is futile. Negotiation will not work without diplomacy, which is what I feel the American public at large is finally realizing.

The second editorial discussed the phenomenon of blogging, and specifically its impact on public political discussion. Written by Joseph Rago, an editor at the WSJ, it takes a highly negative position (incidentally, the article begins by referring to Iran, noting that blogs are so popular that "Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has one."). This position, which is actually discussed extensively by Alireza Doodstar in his article "The Vulgar Spirit of Blogging," (pdf) argues that blogging has debased debate about important issues. Rago believes that the internet, and specifically blogging, has created an atmosphere where the very style of writing has become so sloppy and informal as to be undignified. Says Rago, "The way we write affects both style and substance... The closest analogue [to blogging] might be the (poorly kept) diary or common place book, or the note scrawled to oneself on the back of an envelope- though these things are not meant for public consumption." While I can't argue with many of Rago's points, I think that he in turn misses an important point when it comes to substance. His is the response one would expect from a elite writer, positioned high above "the fray." Perhaps Rago doesn't understand power that the informality of blogging contains, the freedom or accessibility that it implies. Of course, if he is being published in the WSJ, I guess there is no incentive for him to see this.

On the other hand, I do want to point out an important point he makes that has been a point discussed on Sounds Iranian. This deals with participants on the internet talking past each other rather than to each other. As Rago puts it (rather well), "The Internet is very good at connecting and isolating people who are in agreement, not so good at engaging those who aren't." Very apt words that I think bloggers need to deal with.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Collaborative Blog

I am excited to be a part of a new collaborative blog, named Sounds Iranian, that deals with the Iranian blogosphere. I have been traveling the past few weeks and have not had muh time to take a parge part in the discussion. I do look forward to spending more time on it soon, and investigating the work of the other involved bloggers.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

New Blogs

My continued romp through a rediscovered blogosphere placed me in the links section of Shiva the Spy. There I found a number of interesting Iranian blogs, including this one by an environmental activist from Iran. I'll be sure to go through that one sometime soon.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Blogs as a Space for Local Community?

Skimming through the Online Journalism Review website (trying to catch up on all my old links as I upload them to my new home) I revistited the question of blogging as a space for discourse on local social/political/cultural topics. How effective is blogging for this? One of OJR's recent articles looks at the effectiveness of local "grassroots" journalism- which I think of as a form of blogging. Can blogs carve out a niche in this space? It's a question that is similar to the one constantly asked about blogging communities such as the Iranian blogosphere. How much do they really seep into the fabric of the local community? I don't know the answer, although I would suggest that one shouldn't compare blogging (or the internet) to other types of communal space. Clearly however it does have some (specialized?) impact on local discourse.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Two Bad Eggs in a Pod

Forgive me for mixing metphors, but I thought it was an apt description of the recent
meeting between Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Iran's Mahmood Ahmadinejad.
Apparently the two politically isolated leaders are reaching out to each other in an attempt build some sort of unity in the face of Western criticism. Personally, this only delegitimizes Ahmadinejad's position in my mind. Despite his populist rhetoric, Mugabe typifies the corrupt leadership that so much of Africa has suffered under since decolonization.

It's amazing (and terrifying) to see the chaotic currents of the modern colonial project continue to swirl around us today. The words of Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, and other products of the backlash to Western imperialism continue to rely heavily on the anger of colonization. Despite their despotism, these leaders' words garner them with some small sense of legitimacy simply because those who they rail against have devalued their own rhetoric. Africans, Persians, Arabs, Indians all simply yearn for a justice and equality that seems suspiciously absent in their lives. Yet in frustration they often turn to ideologues- and their impostors- who promise to hold the answer to Western dominance. Hyperbole becomes truth as the complexity of modernity is paved over with sound bites and simple answers.

And who says this confusion merely arises in Harare, Mumbai and the West Bank? What about the millions of Americans who would rather blame Islam for terrorism, or who think the conflict between Shi'ites and Sunis (or Hutus and Tutsis or Serbs and Croats) is an immutable conflict between perpetual enemies? We glaze over the complexities of the modern world and fall for the same generalities that create misunderstanding, mistrust and animosity between people all over the world.

I guess what I am getting at (if there is any point to my ramblings) is that we need a more comprehensive understanding of the factors at work in the societies we find ourselves in. Culprits like Mugabe and Ahmadinejad use frustration and misunderstanding to fuel their ambitions. Their solutions ring hollow, but as long as their claims of injustice are substantiated by the actions of our world leaders, they will continue to wield legitimacy. The responsibility is with us to hold our leaders and ourselves accountable to our actions. We have a chance at fixing injustice only by understanding its dimensions.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Among the articles I’ve read about in the past few months is one on Paris Marashi, a student at NYU who is working to promote Iranian vlogs (video weblogs). I visited one of her sites and found myself watching a number of her vlog posts from this summer. I am intrigued by this project, which was essentially an exercise in ethnographic participatory cinema. It is amazing how images serve as such a striking means of conveying information and ideas. The crossing of geographic and socio-cultural boundaries that comes through so powerfully in blogs (and specifically bridgeblogs) feels even starker with video.

Among her other projects is an attempt to promote vlogging in Iran. Her site, vloginiran.blogspot.com sets out to instruct Iranians on how to create a vlog, much as Hoder originally did with blogging. Ultimately, a project such as this might have a harder time catching on because 1) of the cost and availability of the necessary technology and 2) because of the issue government censorship. It is nonetheless an exciting prospect.

Marashi’s projects prompted me to view vlogs from a more anthropological perspective. That her summer project follows the now classic ethnographic genres of cinema verite and participatory cinema (genres blazed by the likes of Jean Rouch, John Adair and others) reminded me of the potency of these types of visual documentary study, as well as their pitfalls. The question of objectivity, one that anthropology has wrestled with for so long, is being reintroduced in the new context of globalized interactive communication. Just as the handheld video camera revolutionized visual anthroplogy during the second half of the 20th century, the internet brings a whole new level of access to the portrayal (read manipulation) of culture. What does this mean in terms of the study and interpretation of ethnic/geographic/socio-economic others? What are the implications in the fetish-ization of the image, especially in the context of Euro-American consumer culture? I don’t have the background to speak with authority on the subject, although I have studied it some and am intrigued by these questions. Take for instance this quote by Marashi from her interview with GVO’s Farid Pouya:

Vlogging immediately opened up the things I wanted to share about my life in Iran to the rest of the world. Today I do something; tonight I post it online; tomorrow someone watches it. It is fascinating how it opens up what you are doing to a global audience. Once something is uploaded on the Internet, or on your videoblog, it is at the hands of the world and available for them to see.

Susan Sontag would have a field-day.

Note to self: keep an eye on this one:

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

In the Beginning…

I would like to begin my inaugural post by stating that this weblog is in fact a continuation of a previous blog I authored up until recently. For over a year I wrote about my academic investigation of the Iranian blogosphere in the context of the history of modernization in Iran. I did this as an unofficial part of my undergraduate thesis on Iranian modernization and Weblogestan, which I completed in May of 2006. After completing my project I decided to continue my blog, entitled Thought Process, as a space for me to explore the dynamics of technology, culture and politics. (Un)fortunately, my blogging service provider, Modblog, died recently and is rumored to be unexpectedly and indefinitely terminated. I have thus been forced to move to a new location, where I hope to continue and expand my academic interest in these topics.

While I hope that the original intent of my “thesis-blog” will continue to play a large role in the form and subject matter of this new space, I also hope to broaden its scope to include more discussion both on communications technology and the larger global blogosphere. However, I cannot rightly predict how events will come to pass. All I can say is that I hope to continue to cultivate what I began over a year ago. While this space is meant to serve primarily as a personal sounding board for my ideas, I do hope others will occasionally include their input.

Calexander.modblog.com RIP.