The purpose of the upcoming trip to Kyrgyzstan trip isn’t closely tied to the questions in the last post. Instead, this is my last scheduled trip to Central Asia, after nine years of travel to and fro, a Fulbright, 2 NSF grants, dozens of graduate and undergraduate student researchers, numerous academic papers and presentations, and a long litany of research challenges that have kept me awake more nights than I can count. Not to mention a livingroom overrun with colorful textiles.
I started this work with some readings about Uzbekistan and their early Internet initiatives in the late 1990s. At the time, I was researching race and gender in the US, and how they affected patterns of technology use. I thought it would be interesting to look at issues of identity and diversity among an early adoption population, before people got habituated to Windows computers. I wanted to see whether the metaphors that drive computer use make sense to truly diverse users. Uzbekistan, but all accounts, was in very early stages of adoption, but had a high literacy rate and robust enough infrastructure that Internet looked poised to diffuse with some speed.
So I took myself off to Indiana University for an intensive summer language institute to learn Uzbek before applying for a Fulbright. There I was, cloistered in my single dorm room, life stripped down to essentials of single bed, built in desk, ethernet and laptop. It was the summer before I went up for tenure, and I was viciously working on two bookmanuscripts. During the days it was 6-8 hours of Uzbek language study followed by homework into the wee hours, then work on my manuscripts and tenure case somehow sandwiched in between. I do remember sending an email out to pretty much all the academics I knew, asking if anyone had colleagues at Bloomington because I had gotten a little exhausted by being a student again, and I needed a few moments to reclaim my identity as a professor.
I applied for the Fulbright that August. Little did I know I was probably the only applicant who actually asked to go to Uzbekistan. All that studying Uzbek language to improve my chances of getting the award was perhaps a little fruitless. When I finally arrived in Tashkent the following summer, in August 2000, the other two Fulbrighters assigned to the country had requested wholly different countries. Uzbekistan wasn’t even on their alternates list. But there I was, brain full of classical Uzbek that pretty much no human beings spoke anymore either in accent or sentence construction, ready to start researching patterns of Internet use, misuse, confusion, and resistance.
Now, nine years later and after expanding the research to three other countries, I’m ready to stop asking these questions. I did get some answers, by the way.