Iran: Tim Shey on Observing Social Unrest Online at 32,000 feet

I'm asking a number of BB friends to contribute guest posts here on the situation in Iran. Next New Networks founder Tim Shey was flying from NYC to LA yesterday, and had an interesting personal story -- he kindly obliged my request to write it up for BB. Tim says:

Like a lot of other Virgin America passengers lately I joined the Mile High WiFi club today, and spent the first hour or so of the flight being marginally productive -- staying in touch with the office via IM and email, catching up on some writing and planning, that sort of thing -- but pretty much ending every conversation or message I had with anyone with "and I'm doing this from A MILE IN THE AIR!" For someone who still remembers the earliest days of dialup, and hasn't completely mastered his animal terror at the sensation of flying at 500mph in a metal tube 32,000 feet above the ground, especially every time a patch of turbulence hits, the idea that we can get fast, stable, $15 Wifi to work on a jet plane seems like technology that's getting close to magic.

But as I starting scanning Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, again for the novelty of doing it in the air, I started seeing postings from friends about the Iranian protests that CNN had also been covering since Obama's AMA speech had ended. First, a Twitter post from Brett Bullington, reblogging a post from John Perry Barlow that you could search Twitter within 15 miles of Iran. I got glued to the stream of messages there, and then hit this vein of extraordinary photos posted on Twitpic by @Iranpishi, especially this one, which I immediately posted to my blog, again amazed that I could follow all this from a plane. Just a few years ago, we got onto a plane and shut the doors, and we could land on a different planet than the one we took off from, depending on what had happened in our world in those eight hours; and just eight months ago, I spent election night flying on a plane across country, feeling cut off from the web and the rest of the world as our plane watched Obama win the presidency and change the world on our little in-seat screens (Daisy Whitney also happened to be on the flight, and wrote this TV Week column about it). This time, though, plugged in and reblogging photos coming out of Tehran and seeing people on the ground then reblogging my posts, I felt like a participant.

As all this was happening, I looked a seat up ahead of me, and saw a young woman also tuned to the footage on CNN, and signing up on her laptop for a citizen journalist account on iReport. I then watched her tabbing through a number of Farsi-language news sites and her Facebook stream, where she was IM-ing and reposting news stories about the protests from her friends in English and Farsi. I leaned over, gave her a card with my email, and asked if she might be willing to forward anything to me so I could share the links. She looked at me and asked, "do you want the real stories of what's going on, or just what some of the news outlets are telling you?" I replied that I supposed I wanted the real story, not knowing what she'd share, and within a minute, we'd become friends on Facebook, and a stream of stories and links were filling my inbox.

The first was an open letter to the world from a group called Iranian Artists in Exile, and I'm posting the full text and video of here. It's a political letter, and should be read critically as such -- but I haven't seen this posted many places elsewhere besides The Washington Times, and that's what this day has been all about -- technology connecting people around the world, and getting us access to voices and perspectives to us we might not have heard otherwise.

Related: this Facebook link inciting people to DDOS pro-Ahmedinejad sites.