How much time does one need to spend in a prison – or in any other place of complete isolation – in order to understand certain rapid changes the modern life is imposing on our thinking and behavior. Hossein Derakhshan did not deserve jail. “He is an Iranian-born blogger, journalist, and internet activist. Since the mid-90s, he has been advocating the use of the internet as a means for social and political reform in Iran. His award-winning weblog, Editor: Myself, which he started in Sep 2001, has been among the most influential blogs in Persian language and his step-by-step instruction to create blogs in Persian should take much of the credit for inspiring thousands of Iranians to start their own blogs,” the Guardian wrote of Derakhshan, publishing a selection of his extremely interesting blog posts, which I suggest you to read.
In 2008, Derakhshan was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison, mostly for what he wrote in his blogs, as he says. After six years of prison, he has been unexpectedly released. Two weeks into his newfound freedom, he started to write a blog again, only to realize that everything has changed. Blogs were dead. The Internet has changed:
“Blogs were gold and bloggers were rock stars back in 2008 when I was arrested. At that point, and despite the fact the state was blocking access to my blog from inside Iran, I had an audience of around 20,000 people every day. Everybody I linked to would face a sudden and serious jump in traffic: I could empower or embarrass anyone I wanted,” writes Derakhshan in the piece he recently published on Medium. He was frustrated when to discover that, because of today’s prevailing business model, he has to publish and post now on Facebook and Twitter, instead of just writing a blog that was followed by thousands without additional prompts. Derakhshan misses hyperlink, but there are so many other things that disappeared or changed while he was away. With perspective that comes from isolation as a prisoner, or better, with the removed air of a philosopher, Derakhshan says that biggest enemy of great hyperlinks and blogs “was a philosophy that combined two of the most dominant, and most overrated, values of our times: novelty and popularity, reflected by the real world dominance of young celebrities. That philosophy is the Stream.” And then, as a man of another time, Derakhshan makes his most important observation: “The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.”
It is good to have Derakhshan back, hoping that he will be able to continue to write and contribute further to the present debate on the internet in whatever way is most accessible to us. I know what it means to approach a language that has an ocean of writers and leave your own, native audience. I am not trying to say that this is what Derakhshan is complaining about – what he says deserves serious discussion, reflection and a lot of hard work. You do not want to deal with all the fanfare, you just want to write and have people read your work? It is not impossible, and my dear Derakhshan, you are not alone in this effort.