Friday, September 28, 2007

Thesisblog to Travelblog

When I first began blogging over two years ago, I had specific goals in mind. I wanted to use this electronic medium in a dynamic way, enmeshing discussion of my topic within the scope of the subject itself. And while I've wrestled from time to time with the focus and scope of this blog, I'm happy about the space it has created for me to further delve into the issues spawned it in the first place. In fact, I believe it is because I've kept such a focus that I still find this place useful for me (although this still hasn't prohibited me from neglecting it every so often).

That is why I've been debating internally for some time what to do with Thought Process during my nearly year long journey around the world, which I will commence on Monday. While I have some reservations about suddenly changing what began as my thesisblog into a travelblog, I think in some sense my decision reflects the dynamic spirit of blogging. Blogs are interesting in that they are both ephemeral and historical. They are constantly changing, but also chronicle their own past. Formats, environments, subjects and writing styles may reinvent a blog, but one can also find amongst its archives a story, a historical trajectory through which one can recreate the past.

In this spirit I've decided to shift the scope of Thought Process towards that of a travelblog. While I'm still not entirely sure what this will entail, I assume that there will be a significant change in the subject and even the tone of the posts. This is not to say that I will not try to fit in my writing with the general themes of this blog. Rather, I expect a new perspective may appear as I travel about.

I don't have any great expectations or grand illusions about what this will likely mean. Since I have nearly always used this space as more of a personal sounding board than anything else, I don't expect a big reaction from the few readers who find themselves here. At the very least I will attempt to walk a fine line between academic and personal writing, and in so much I hope that any friends and family that would like to learn a little more about my travels will find something useful here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Internet and Democracy Project

The Berkman Center recently announced their newest project, Internet and Democracy. The project will focus on the Middle East and include both research and the development of Internet tools for democratic activists in these areas. A graduate student and researcher for the project contacted me a little while back about the project to get some input and tips on the blogging situation in Iran. I'm interested in seeing what they come up with.

In the press release Jon Zittrain, a co-founder of the Berkman Center, noted one of the primary goals: "We want to help develop and test simple, lightweight tools for civic engagement online – tools that facilitate coordination among people who share a common cause, and good faith dialogue among people who disagree." Of course, I have my own ideas about what sort of projects they could create. Clearly, the main factors inhibiting free speech and democratic use of the Internet in Iran are censorship and accessibility. While its a difficult task to try an find solutions to these issues, there are a couple of areas where one could make headway. For instance, one of the first things that could be done with regards to censorship would be to compile and maintain a categorized list of censored websites, blogs, etc. This has been done on an informal level (Derakhshan's now defunct is one example), but could definitely be expanded upon and deepened. Of especial concern is the task of making this information available to netizens in Iran. Thinking about this problem from the angle of decentralized networks (think P2P filesharing) could provide solutions, as this is one of the potential strengths of blogging communities.

Another, perhaps more far-fetched approach to the question of accessibility would be to utilize the State Departments' Iranian democracy promoting budget to improve Internet access through remote servers. Is it out of the question to attempt some sort of remote Internet broadcasting into Iran, much as was done with satellite in the 90's? I'd argue if successful it would be more effective than spending that money on broadcasting propaganda tv as we are now.