Cyrus Farivar is a USA-based blogger, journalist and writer. He is currently working on a book about the impact of the internet on society. Cyrus writes about internet impact on Iran, Senegal, South Korea and Senegal. He was recently in Iran and has taken several photos of Iranian carpets, food, buildings and nature too.
Q: You visited Iran recently after many years. Was it a cultural shock? Was there any difference between what you imagined, and what you came to know about Iran in reality?
A: Iran wasn't a culture shock at all. It was pretty much what I expected, culturally. I did grow up in a half-Iranian family in California, after all. Iranians are terribly hospitable people and always want to be helpful and welcoming to family members like me who have never been to Iran.
Q: You are writing a book on the Internet and its impact on society. One fourth of your book is about Iran. Can you explain this project?
A: I am writing a book about the history and effects of the Internet in four countries around the world, including Estonia, Iran, Senegal and South Korea. It explores how the political and economic histories of these countries intersect with the arrival of the Internet in their countries. It is tentatively titled “The Internet of Elsewhere” and will be published by Rutgers University Press (USA) in late 2009.
Q: Why did you choose these four countries for your book?
A: I chose these countries because they each represent vastly different experiences when it comes to the Internet.
Senegal, because it's a Sub-Saharan African country, and yet, relative to many others in the region is politically and economically stable. It should be ripe for greater Internet penetration, and yet, it's not.
Estonia, because of the rapid changes that it has gone through since its emergence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It went from barely any communication with the outside world in 1991 to having more mobile phones than citizens today.
South Korea, because it has the largest rate of Internet penetration in the world and has the highest and cheapest bandwidth in the world. How did this happen?
Iran, for personal reasons but also because it's interesting to watch how the Internet, a disruptive technology in and of itself, intersects with the theocracy and budding democratic thinkers of the early 21st century.
Q: Have you found any commonalities in these countries?
A: I have found common elements in so far as the Internet has had a dramatic effect on the contemporary histories of each country. Even in a country like Senegal, the Internet is cheap enough to the point where even the poorest kids in Dakar can pool their money between three or four of them to share access on a machine in a cybercafe for an hour fairly regularly. Each of these countries would look different without the proliferation of the Internet.
Q: Do you think blogs have any real influence in Iranian media and society?
A: I think that blogs do have an impact on Iran, but I wonder how much of an impact they can have now when so many blogs are filtered, and the bandwidth is slowed. Sure, many Iranians know how to use proxies and other tools to get around the blocks, but the simple fact that many young Iranian thinkers and writers have had to leave since 2001, makes me wonder who are the winners and losers in this case. The answers aren't obvious.
Q: Did you meet any bloggers in Iran? What challenges are there for cyber activists?
A: I didn't meet any bloggers in Iran, but I did meet with Shahram Sharif of ITIran.com and Sina Tabesh of Wikipedia Persian. I have spoken with many bloggers by phone and by IM previously, but unfortunately have not met many of them. It's hard for cyber activists, even those who live outside Iran, to at once speak out against the government and feel safe in what they say, and how they say it.
Q: How was your personal experience surfing and using internet in Iran? Slow, filtered…?
A: I stayed with my grandmother, who, despite living in North Tehran, did not have Internet access at her apartment. During the two weeks I was there, I was only to use the Internet once, from a cyber café in the Hotel Aseman in Esfahan. I was able to make a Skype call to the US with no problem. That being said, I did access a VERY limited version of the Internet on my iPhone — oddly, the only website that I was able to access with any regularity was The New York Times.