Harvard: Hoder speaks

Harvard: Hoder speaks

: Hoder now speaks to the group and at last gets recognition. “He began a blog but he began a phenomenon,” says Nesson.

He begins with some facts about Iranian society and the internet. Out of Iran’s 70 million people, 70 percent are under age 30. He says there are 75,000 active Iranian weblogs in Persian. (I had been quoting higher numbers; probably included inactives over three years.)

“The internet in Iran is now the most trusted medium among Iranians… (versus) even satellite TV.”

He says that elsewhere, the internet came first and then blogs; in Iran, blogs came first and showed Iranians how great the internet is as a medium.

“The internet is not having a real large impact on politics in Iran right now.” There are no parties, no free press, “and maybe it’s not the time.” It’s more about social and cultural change, “which could be translated into political change in a few years.”

He sees blogs as windows: people can see inside Iran and vice versa. We can see how profoundly the young Iranian people have changed in terms of self-expression and tolerance.

And he sees blogs as bridges, which is particularly important in a developing nation. “Blogs in particular are making bridges between genders, which may be the first time that is happening in Iran.” Women, for the first time, are “free to epress themselves… about how they see the world.” It also creates a bridge between generations as parents read children’s blogs — and he says that’s a global thing. And there is a bridge building between voters and polticians in Iran.

He tells about the former vice-president of Iran as a blogger. When we saw Hoder in Toronto, he shows pictures of cabinet meetings moblogged by the VP. “He has repeatedly said that this is the best tool with which Iranian officials can see what is going in in the people’s minds, in the younger generations… Some female bloggers have even been invited to some official ceremonies as representatives of young people.”

The hardline religious people have blogs, too. “For the first time you can see what’s really going on in their minds.”

His third metaphor: Blogs as cafes. “The government has a total monopoly on Iranian media…. So discourse or debates about important topics like the nuclear program or the relationship with Israel… is not even talked about. It is a red line you cannot cross and if you cross it you will go to jail. It’s very serious.”

“Blogs are the only open window where people can talk and have a debate.” He quotes a famous reformist who says blogs have replaced taxi talks. This was something Hoder taught me: Iranians like to argue and do it in cabs.

Hoder said the American election was a big topic of conversation and surprisingly, many liked Bush, perhaps because the government doesn’t like him.

What’s next? “They’re preparing the ground for the real and effective change in Iran in the next, maybe, couple of years.” The other sign that it is effective is that it has made the hardliners so frustrated that they cannot control it, they have started a huge crackdown and Iranians cannot get to any political web sites. He tells of an editor at a major paper who wrote up a conspiracy theory that all blogs are funded by the CIA. And, of course, the authorities have been arresting bloggers.

I ask Hoder what the world can do to help. He says they need technology and education. Young people in Iran have not seen elections, for example. For technology they need tools that are localized; Blogger.com is a great service and a great opportunity, he says, but it needs to be translated. The services in Iran have poltiical difficulties. He adds that getting internet access is vital.