First drafts are in.

Holy crap. The Internet of Elsewhere might actually be real — I just filed my first draft.

Grand total word count came to about 83,000 words. I’m pretty stoked but also deathly afraid.

I apologize if I haven’t been very communicative over these past few weeks as I’ve been trying to pound this thing out.

Becks and I are in Geneva for the weekend for the Fête de l’Escalade and to visit my old Italian teacher, Luca Notari.

Thanks to everyone for all your support. I’ll need it now more than ever.
It’s 2:30 am in France. Bedtime for me.

Cyrus on Global Voices

Hamid Tehrani of Global Voices conducted an email interview with me about my forthcoming book, tentatively titled The Internet of Elsewhere.

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 will be published by Rutgers University Press (USA) in Fall/Winter 2009.

You can read the rest here.

One quarter (roughly) done

Wow. I just finished a very very very rough draft of the Iran section of my book. Yikes. This writing stuff is hard. It weighs in — with a few thousand words’ worth of holes — at about 22,000 words right now.

President Ilves, on the Internet in Estonia

Baltic Times:

[Estonian President Toomas Hendrik] Ilves also talked up Estonia’s reputation as a centre of hi-tech excellence, saying: “Estonia has some positive experiences, like digitalised public services, that deserve to be explored by the others. We have gone far in reducing paper bureaucracy – it makes my life much easier to work with the computer. Our approach to facilitating computer use deserves to be examined by others.”

“In Estonia you can use your computer anywhere and you have free Wifi. In the worst case, you pay one Euro for 24 hours. In most of Europe you can pay up to 8 euros for 30 minutes.

“When I moved in Tallinn from one apartment to another and asked for an Internet-service, the company told me that they could come on the very same day between 2-3pm and how did this time slot suit me? When I moved to Brussels, I had to wait 7 weeks from when I applied for the internet service!”

William Gibson, on the Internet

“Had nations better understood the potential of the Internet, I suspect they might well have strangled it in its cradle. Emergent technology is, by its very nature, out of control, and leads to unpredictable outcomes.”

William Gibson
Directors Guild of America’s Digital Day
Los Angeles, May 17, 2003

Halfway home

Well, my trip is basically half over. In two and a half weeks, I’ll be on a plane bound for the US. Next Saturday morning, local time, I’ll be on a plane bound for Paris, with a stopover in Casablanca airport, the beginning of the last leg of this journey. I’ll spend 10 days bouncing between Paris, London, Tallinn, Berlin, Geneva and then back to Paris on Feb. 14.

How’s it been going so far? To be honest, pretty rough. I’ve never felt like I’ve struggled with something so completely. Every day that I’ve been here (did I really get here two weeks ago?) I’ve done my best to do interviews as much as I could, to establish connections with people that I didn’t know as well before, and to really, truly, try to understand what the heck the Internet is doing to this country.

What have I gathered so far?

Well, the Internet is surely a bit cheaper since four years ago, the last time I was here. I’ve yet to find a cybercafé in Dakar that is charging more that 350 CFA ($0.70) per hour — most are charging 250 or 300 CFA. By comparison, bus fare is 150 CFA, a newspaper is 100 CFA, a 1.5 L bottle of water is 400 CFA, and a sandwich is 500 CFA. So it’s definitely affordable to a large portion of the population.

Kids here love online dating, YouTube and Skype. Every time I go into a cybercafé, there’s people chatting up members of the opposite sex, both abroad and local. This kid Max, the son of Mamadou Gaye, is in high school and every day I see him here in the CRESP offices chatting up girls and sometimes even initiating video conferences with Senegalese girls who live a few kilometers away. I constantly see kids checking out YouTube (the fact that it’s in English doesn’t stop ’em). Just yesterday I saw about six kids huddled around a computer in the late morning (why aren’t these kids in school?), with one of them typing in “tu pac” into the search box, as a way to try to watch videos of their favorite American rapper.

Olivier Sagna said something pretty interesting the other day, which was that the Internet is so cheap now, that money that kids would have spent on small things like candy or street snacks could spend it on an hour at the cybercafé. Even if kids pool their resources (say, each contributing 100 CFA [$0.20]), they can get online with no problem.

Of course, if you’re a little bit older, your Internet habits change. I met a recent high school graduate at one cybercafé, who was literally typing “étudier aux usa” (studying in the USA) into Google and was just clicking on whatever university links came up. When I glanced over his shoulder, he was filling out an application to study at SUNY Rockland. Why there? “Because it’s in New York.” He didn’t seem to realize that Suffern, NY is not the same as NY, NY. He said that he used to go a couple of neighborhoods away only a couple of years ago in order to get to the nearest cybercafé.

Then I’ve even talked to some older business types who use the Internet to help them do commerce. One merchant told me that he’s been writing foreign embassies to try to find companies that can help him sell his coconuts abroad. Another told me that he uses the Internet to educate himself about Islam, particularly to ask questions that he wouldn’t feel comfortable asking his imam or his family — such as what sexual positions are permitted in Islam.

Government officials are putting Internet penetration at somewhere between five and ten percent, which is a huge jump from the one percent that I reported in 2003. ADSL connections can now be had at home for 20,000 CFA ($40), on top of your regular phone bill. Not affordable to the majority of the population, to be sure, but notable nonetheless. WiFi, while still pretty rare, does exist in some places. I’ve seen it in a few offices, including the CRESP annex, which is how I get online as frequently as I do.

Jim Delehanty, my the UW-Madison advisor, (whose hotel room floor I slept on two weeks ago) and who has been coming to Senegal for the last 15 years, every year, probably put it best:

“I’m astonished that these hotels have wireless now. Here it works fine from the veranda and not at all from my room on the third floor, but sitting in a sheltered place with a Flag [local beer] and peanuts, typing in QWERTY on my own laptop is a giant step up from the cybercafe (which itself was a an unimaginable leap from two Peace Corps years of snail mail plus the heart-in-the-throat alternative no one wanted, the telegram in the mailbox.)”

Thanks to the CRESP WiFi connection, I’ve been able to do freelance work by interviewing a source in Amsterdam, and have been able to keep in touch with those that I love via Skype on a nearly daily basis. I’ve been able to download episodes of The Daily Show and watch them on my own laptop before I go to bed most days. That astonishes even me.

I spent most of today finishing up a big freelance piece for back home and didn’t get the chance to really take stock of the work that I’ve done so far. I’ll probably do that on Monday or Tuesday, because I’m leaving town for the weekend tomorrow after my interview with Amadou Top. I’m headed north, to visit my old stomping grounds at the Université Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis for about 24 hours, and then eastward to Rosso, where I’ll visit my Internet buddy, Daniel Zhu — currently stationed there as part of the Peace Corps. He says he can get me across the border for one day for about $10. I’ll hang with him for about a day, and then make the four hour trek back to Dakar, arriving in the early evening on Monday, which apparently is a holiday (Islamic New Year).

Then, that’ll leave me with a full 96 hours to hit up a few more cybercafés, get in a couple more interviews, and go shopping for folks back home. I’ll do my best to get some postcards sent from here (although I may not get to them until I get back to Europe), but if you want one, please email me your postal address.

See you guys when I get back to Dakar.

I’m out of the country until Feb. 14

I’ll be on the road (West Africa, Europe) until February 14.

Until then, I’m best reached by email or Skype (cfarivar ; 510.931.5564).

I’ll be getting a Senegalese number and an Estonian number as well. Ask me if you need it.

See you guys soon!

Finding a cheap hotel in London en route to Stansted airport

So due to the magic of EasyJet, I have a $50 flight from London to Tallinn in exactly a month. One problem though, is that the flight is from Stansted Airport, which is basically not near anything — meaning, it’s about 30 miles northeast of London. That’s basically like living in Oakland and flying out of San Jose: doable, but not ideal.

Now, normally this wouldn’t be a problem as there’s a convenient train that leaves every 30 minutes from downtown London (Liverpool Street Station). Only one glitch, though: my flight leaves Stansted at 06h45, meaning I have to be there at 04h45. The first train is at 06h00, so there goes taking the train.

After briefly considering simply sleeping in Stansted Airport, I then had the idea of staying in the town of Harlow, the nearest cheap hostel, but that would have involved a 3 am mile-long walk from the hostel the Harlow City Centre to catch a bus to Stansted airport to make my flight in time.

At this point, I consulted with Marie Javins, who suggested looking for a hotel near Victoria St. Station so that I could just take the £8 ($15.50) bus that runs all night to Stansted.

Then I discovered the Holly and Ivy House Hotel — where I booked a room earlier today for £27.25 ($53) including a student discount. This puts me in Central London, and pretty near Waterloo Station, where I’ll be coming in on the Eurostar from Paris earlier that day. The Holly House Hotel is around the block from where the bus picks up from.

I’ll only be sleeping in this hotel for a pretty short time, but it’s a pretty good deal.

Still, Marie said it best: “Wanna open a capsule hotel at Stansted? I reckon there’s money in it.”

If you make discount airport parking reservations then you can save some money on airport parking that you wouldn’t be able to without a discount airport parking service–why pay full price when you can save on airport parking if you plan ahead?

I got a book deal!

“When the things got for real, I got up in the fold /
and put into practice all that I was told.”

– “The Inkwell”, Blue Scholars

Things are getting pretty freakin’ real right about now, that’s for sure. I just got a book deal. Yeah. Really. A book. Like you know, one of those things that’s printed on dead trees and sits in libraries and stuff. Maybe you’ve heard of ’em? I’m going to have an entry in the Library of Congress! Holy guacamole, I’ve never been more overwhelmed and excited at the same time!

So yeah, a book. The tentative title (likely to change, I’m open to suggestions) is Planet Internet: The Liberating Effects of a Wired World. It will examine how the Internet has played itself out in different countries around the globe, particularly in Senegal, Iran, Estonia and South Korea. Each of these countries has an incredible story to tell as to how the Internet has affected their socities and has been influenced by a handful of individuals.

You might remember that I started this project back at Columbia and went to Estonia for a week in March 2005. This was the seed of what became a full-fledged book proposal and sample chapter, focusing on Veljo Haamer of That proposal stayed tucked away in my hard drive, and I sent it to a few random agents, hoping to get something. None bit, until Sam Freedman directed me to Rutgers University Press, whom I’m honored to say will be publishing my book. The book is due out sometime in 2009. Jeez, that’s like after the next president will be elected.

So as a result, I’m going to be stepping back my role at Engadget from Senior Associate Editor to Contributing Editor, which means that I’ll be working part-time, most likely when I’m not out and about in the world. I will continue to freelance for other publications as much as possible.

My tentative plan as of now is to go to Senegal for three weeks (followed by a shorter trip to Europe) in January (9th until February 14th), then spend the next two months at home in Oakland, followed by about 3-4 weeks in Korea, two months home, then 3-4 weeks in Estonia and Europe, two months home and then about a month in Iran in October 2007. The manuscript is due in July 2008, although I’m shooting to have it done sooner than that.

I can’t believe that I’m actually embarking on this. On the one hand I feel very excited and have had loads of encouragement from my colleague, family and friends. On the other hand, I feel overcharged with such a huge project. The maximum length of this book is 90,000 words (for you non-journos out there, that’s 360 double-spaced typed pages) — by contrast the longest piece of journalism that I’ve ever done was my Master’s thesis, which came in at just under 5,000 words.

This project is literally 15 times larger in every conceiveable way than what I’ve done before. I feel like I’ve taken step one and two in doing narrative journalism (I took Sam‘s class and wrote the proposal), but now I’m being asked to take on step 10. I don’t know that there’s any other way around it, other than to dive right in, but it’s freakin’ scary nonetheless. But I know that I’m up to the task.

So here’s what I’m asking from you, my friends. In the immediate term, I’d love to know anything that you know about getting research grants, as I’m in dire need of some. Also, if you’re feeling particularly generous about helping me with my research, I’m passing my digital hat around via my PayPal account. Honestly, any small amount would really really help me a bunch. Yes, international travel is expensive, but one night’s lodgings in Senegal will cost me under $10. Anything that you feel is appropriate will be rewarded with my cooking you dinner at my house in Oakland, if you’re in town. (Also, if you have any contacts in any of these countries [mainly South Korea, Iran, and Senegal] who might be useful for me to talk to and/or might let me stay with them, please do let me know.)

But by far, the easiest way to contribute to my research is to help me find links pertaining to the Internet in those four countries. So I’ve set up a account to help the cause. Any link that you want to send me, just tag as “for:planetinternet” — I’ve got a big list already going.

Thanks guys — I know that I can’t do this project without you.

2007 is going to be a hell of a year.