The blogosphere will be vibrant again

It is almost ten years now since the Persian blogosphere was born and it has gone through a lot during this time. The present world of the Persian blogosphere is a dynamic environment which has managed to break many taboos in the society, although it has not been as easy for bloggers as it may sometimes seem. Where does the Persian blogosphere stand now? Where would the blogosphere go in the midst of all these rivalries and pressures? I have discussed these questions with a number of bloggers.

This time I have discussed these issues with the author of ‘Talkh mesle asal’ (As bitter as honey). Amir Hossein has been blogging about his daily life and romance for the past five years.

Given the events of the past one year and a half, how do you see the circumstances of the Persian blogosphere?

I think the blogosphere is not separated from the society in which it lives, it breathes in the same atmosphere. We all went through and experience which has more or less engaged all of us in the aftermaths of the post-election events; this was a tough but much valued experience. I think the blogosphere, it its own turn, has paid a high price for it. If you just look at the people who are threatened to be punished or are punished, you can see that they were somehow into blogging and the blogosphere. My own experience was one of absolute insecurity. I mean before this election, we knew what the red lines are and we knew what we have to be mindful of and we knew how far we could go without having to pay an uncontrollable price. In the aftermaths of the election, we never got to have a clear view of what the limits are. Just about anything could get you in trouble and anything could end up in making you pay an incredibly steep price. That’s why the blogosphere has become very cautious. I have a feeling that bloggers became very cautious to the extent that they could and this has, in my opinion, had a negative impact on the blogosphere.

Beside this, we should also note that we have had a wave of immigration among bloggers following these incidents and this has in its own turn taken its toll on the blogosphere. Some of the best bloggers immigrated and they became somehow suspended between the two environments of inside and outside Iran. They are not yet settled in their new atmosphere, nor do they have an up to date sense of the events inside the country. I think this was one more reason for the development which took place in the blogosphere which I think is not a positive one.

There are other spaces which have flourished beside the blogosphere such as Facebook, Twitter or Google Reader. Do you think they have somehow had an impact on the blogosphere?

I can only speak about my own personal experience. I think none of these can replace blogging, whether it is Facebook or Google Reader or Twitter. None of them can replace what happens in the blogosphere. The way you express yourself in your blog and the manner in which you can depict your being in your blog and your rough sketches of yourself in it never happens in Facebook or in Google Reader. The reason is simply that in those spaces, something else is demanded. You have to write otherwise. The spaces you are mentioning are somewhat communities for being around each other for mingling, but blogging is an entirely different incident. Just compare it with watching a movie with a group of your friends, which usually happens in Facebook or more or less in Google Reader, but blogging is like being the director of a film and a group of people come and view the film that you have made. That’s why blogging is different, at least for me. I think that spaces such as Facebook and Google Reader have not undermined or weakened the blogosphere and blogging itself. What happened for us was more than anything else a combination of insecurity and despair and the fact that many of us don’t know exactly what we can write and the cost we would have to pay for our writings.

However, there are bloggers or readers who believe that the blogosphere is at the end of its life and the author or the reader seek other tools that the blogosphere cannot cater for. What is your opinion?

I think this idea can only be true if the blogging space is free from all the pressures of the past one year and a half. I know a lot of people who are now writing in Google Reader, only because that space is a safer environment. I do not want to attribute whatever has happened to insecurity. I don’t want to say that the only important element which makes the blogosphere different now is this element, but it has been an important factor that we cannot ignore.

For five years, whenever I have turned on my computer at work in the morning, the first place that I have invariably checked has been my own blog and the comments I had on it and probably the first thing I did was writing in my blog. Now it is more than 3 months that I have been deprived of it. And still it happens that sometimes I find myself inadvertently checking the page which does not exist! It is like having a home you are used to and you had a feeling of ownership in it and then one day you realise that someone goes to bed one night and then in the morning, decides that you have no right to own it; this would alienate you from words. My own experience was exactly like this.

I want to get back to the point that we can only talk about this issue of blogging and the blogosphere and whether it can respond to the needs of our time or not only when we have a safe environment for writing.

Your blog has been deleted by Persianblog...

Yes, without any warning.

In these three months that you referred to, have you found a solution for this issue?

Yes, I created the same blog with the same name on blogspot, but the reality is that I do not have a feeling of ownership there. My blog ‘Talkh mesle Asal’ had its own audience. Adding up its readers from Google Reader, it had about two to three thousand visitors per day. This number of visitors was very important to me. My impression was that it can set in motion some small moves in its own turn. I have not yet been able to move on and deal with losing my blog in Persianblog.

You can still write and probably most of your readers are still following you and you have a safer environment than Persianblog. So what is it that bothers you so much?

You should put together all that we have been talking about until now. Before these events, I had blogged for five years and a half and I was not even filtered. Now, I do not know what we can talk about that does not really hurt anyone to the extent that makes me pay this uncontrollable price. Another fact is that I could not carry all my readers with me. I am still receiving emails from people who read my weblog not through its feed in Google Reader but through the blog itself and they ask where I write and if I have a new address for my blog? I have lost a large number of my old readers. It was also like a home to me. I feel my home has been taken away from me, without my own consent. Suppose I have been given a better home, but it does not feel the same anymore.

One other thing has also happened in the blogosphere: many people are writing minimal posts or satire. Where do you think this new wave comes from?

We are now using satire as tool with multiple functions. On the one hand, we feel that we have been humiliated in the real society outside the virtual space and we are trying to reciprocate the same feeling with words addressing them to the people who have humiliated us. I mean one of the functions of this type of writing is some sort of retaliation for what happens in the outside world. The other point is that when you make fun of something, such as a monster or a gruesome event, you are implicitly telling yourself that there is nothing to fear and everything is all but a joke. This is what we do in the face of the first situation. It is a retaliation of the humiliation we have faced in the real world and we seek refuge in our satire to find asylum there. You may have noticed that this humorous and joyful tone of some of the bloggers was still alive during the toughest days.

If you compare older bloggers with younger ones, don’t you think that younger ones usually use satire and minimal writings? Do you see a big distinction between these two generations of bloggers? Do you think these two generations will ever meet at one point?

I do not really believe in this distinction as sharp as you put it. I have counter examples from both generations: older bloggers who write satire and younger ones who are very capable analysts. I want to point out that they have already met.

I agree that their tone is different. Even when they write satire or minimal posts, their tone is different. Older writers still observe certain boundaries of customary restrictions. Younger bloggers are a little bolder in breaking boundaries. I am not saying which is good or bad. I don’t mean to judge. This includes the choice of words and the tone of the language. When they engage in a critical or controversial debate, older bloggers usually observe certain things and younger ones are much more frank both in satire and in critique. This is sometimes good and it can also lead to some controversies which strengthens the blogosphere. You can see how different opinions coexist. My own experience is that eventually even in an environment when things become harsh, people can distinguish between the author and the text. They may not be on good terms with the writer, but they can share his writings.

Considering the prevailing conditions for the blogosphere and the pressures which are still on bloggers, how do you see the future of Persian blogosphere?

Incidentally, I think that in the near future, we shall find our way. I mean I think that despite all that has happened and al the pressures, we can adapt ourselves to the new conditions and find our way. In all that will happen in the coming years in Iran, my guess is that the Persian blogosphere will play an important role. I think social movements and movements such as blogging are like movement of waves. You cannot say whether it is on the rise or it is falling. These are rising waves which will have their corrective falls following them. I think we are at the end of a downward corrective slope of the blogosphere which is a prelude to a more vibrant presence.

I can see each and every blogger finding solutions for their problems of writing to adapt themselves to this new atmosphere. My general perception and intuition is that the Persian blogosphere will soon find its way. New people with new styles of writing will come in. We can see that many of us have sought refuge in satirical writings to be able to soothe the daily pains we have. Some have immigrated and gradually settled in their new environments, but my general feeling of its prospect is positive. We are all people of words and sooner or later we will come back to words.

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