The power of blogs & web 2.0 technology

With the advent of the web 2.0,  the tech-savvy were not the only ones out there pumping content – everybody could share their lives on a blog such as this one, pontificate on wikipedia, and imagine themselves a wannabe Spielberg. Although it is easy dismiss the content of much that is created using web 2.0 technology, the current crisis in Iran has shown the full potential of such tools. Iranians have been using Facebook and Twitter to coordinate protests and students at a Vancouver Film School created the following video about the way young Iranians have used blogs to share opinions and information with the rest of the world.

When I first accessed the internet in 1996, it blew my mind away for its potential – clear to me even back then – to break barriers and democratize access to information. Governments have tried to limit access everywhere, with only limited success. Watch the video above; it’s worth it. Read also this great article about Twitter & the protests in Iran. And as the Landismom put it:

It’s a little humbling, to watch in real time as a father in Iran worries about his daughter, and tweets that he’s just heard that there are military police in the park that she was last in. And it can feel so far away, that park, and that girl—so far away that there’s nothing we can do to help. But every person reading this can do something to help that girl, right now. You can pick up the phone, and call your congressman, and tell him or her to ask the US to intervene. You can wear green to work tomorrow, even though it’s not St. Patty’s Day. In most big cities, you can find a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with the Iranians, and you can attend it.

I couldn’t have said it better. And that’s what all this new media does. It forces us to care, to be engaged.

Clay Shirky, a NYU professor who recently gave a TED talk on the power of new media, gave an interview recently on the Iranian case. He calls it the first revolution catapulted to the world stage by social media. As he puts it,

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 where they chanted “the whole world is watching.” Really, that wasn’t true then. But this time it’s true … and people throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They’re engaging with individual participants, they’re passing on their messages to their friends, and they’re even providing detailed instructions to enable web proxies allowing Internet access that the authorities can’t immediately censor. That kind of participation is reallly extraordinary.

According to Shirky, of all the new technologies out there Twitter has had the biggest impact in this particular case. It is so simple and so open that although they’ve been trying really hard, authorities have failed to control it or shut it down.

But more than provide an outlet for those in Iran. Twitter has allowed people outside to feel engaged to what happens there:

When I see John Perry Barlow setting himself up as a router, he’s not performing these services as a journalist. He’s engaged. Traditional media operates as source of inofrmation not as a means of coordination. It can’t do more than make us sympathize. Twitter makes us empathize. It makes us part of it. Even if it’s just retweeting, you’re aiding the goal that dissidents have always sought: the awareness that the ouside world is paying attention is really valuable.

But perhaps more importantly, Twitter allowed people to connect without the veil set by governments and ideologies.

But whatever happens from here, the dissidents have seen that large numbers of American people, supposedly part of “the great Satan,” are actually supporters. Someone tweeted from Tehran today that “the American media may not care, but the American people do.” That’s a sea-change.

Indeed.

The Internet and foreign languages

Blogging can be a great way to practice a language. More than taking a course and dutifully applying oneself to a grammar exercise book, languages are best acquired – or maintained – by frequent use. When I’m learning a language I like to expose myself to it as much as I possibly can. I took two months of Spanish classes before I went to Barcelona and another month when I first got there but unfortunately, I couldn’t just take classes since I was there to do research all day and I simply had not time. But I was also determined to acquire a fluent – or as close to fluent as I could – command of the language during the year I was there. The answer was to use it as much as I could. I chatted with everybody I could find, I watched a lot of television and above all else, I read a lot of fiction. I adopted a rule that I would only read non-work related material (e.g. newspapers, fiction books, magazines) in Spanish or Catalan while I was there. By the end of the year most people believed I had lived there for years.

But since I’ve been back, I’ve found myself with few occasions to express myself in Spanish. At the same time, I’ve become more interested in expanding my ability to communicate in Catalan, which I can read and understand well, having taken a course, but have not practiced speaking or writing. The solution? I’ve started looking for blogs written in those languages. Blogs are good because not only I can read some really interesting texts but I can choose to participate in discussions leaving comments in that particular language. In terms of language and content my favourite Spanish-language blog is Und komisch spricht das Mulmertier… los años de la marmota en las tierras del frühschoppen, written by a Catalan who lives in Austria and who writes in a very thoughtful, poetic way. More recently I started looking for blogs in Catalan and came across La Llumenera de Nova York, a very interesting, prolific, and creative blog by a Catalan living in NYC. I should probably download some podcasts in those languages to also train the ear.

But if you have time and want to really get into a language, another option is actually writing a blog in that language. The best example of this is my friend Christian’s blog, which is written entirely in Latin!

What about you? Do you use internet resources to practice a language?

My own webspace

It’s about time I create my own professional webspace. More and more academics are developing their own space where they can post links to publications, CV, teaching, and the like and although I had a personal web site when I first started my PhD, I let it lapse and didn’t keep it updated. This time I invested on acquiring my own web space (at BlueHost) and designed a site using the WordPress platform. It’s very simple for now, but it will serve as a sort of virtual business card. You can visit it here. Let me know what you think.

Internet censorship in Brazil (again)

© GlobalvoicesIt’s becoming eerily common – Brazilian authorities are once more trying to censor info on the internet. This time it’s the Brazilian Olympic Committee who is prohibiting all the athletes participating at the Pan Am Games 2007, hosted in Rio, from maintaining blogs, photo logs, and personal websites during the games. They also want to prevent any digital coverage of the games to be available online. Apparently, the BOC wants to please the television broadcasters sponsoring the event… You can read more about it here.

What’s wrong with these people??? First of all, when is the tv industry going to stop trying to compete with the internet and decide to fully embrace the technology (i.e. making their services available online)? More importantly, when will Brazilian authorities stop trying to meddle with what people choose to make available on the web and what they can access?? Unfortunately, the country is beginning to be associated with attempts to censor the web… Is this how the Brazilian Olympic Committee wants to make a case for hosting the Olympics?

We’re becoming more and more a Banana Republic…