It became very clear to me that I had gone to Iran wanting to study the wrong opposition. I became obsessed with this idea that the real opposition in Iran is the 67 percent that's under the age of 30, and all I wanted to do was meet as many of them as possible. Even the ones that are part of that counternarrative like the basijis and the pro-regime ones.
Where it became about technology was I had this experience: I was in Shiraz, in the south, at one of these very busy intersections and all these kids --- there was five or six different alleyways all meeting, it was a very, very busy part -- and it was filled with kids perched against the sides of shops all looking at their cell phones. And I asked one: "What are you doing?"
And he said "Oh, this is where we use Bluetooth." He was trying to explain, "This is how I'm figuring out what I'm doing tonight." Another person was trying to recruit a bassist for their band; only one or two doing something that could be loosely interpreted as doing something politically relevant. It was mostly social and recreational. I asked one [youth]: "Aren't you worried? You're doing this right in the open; aren't you worried you're going to get caught?" He looked at me and said, "Oh, nobody over 30 knows what Bluetooth is."
The conclusion I came to there is there's two gaps: There's a generation gap between young people who are socialized and brought up with these technologies and an older generation that's coming a bit late to them (and that questions them before they embrace them); there are downsides to both. And there's an innovation gap between companies that innovate for luxury environments -- i.e., free and open societies -- and repressed populations which use things innovatively.
FP: Let's talk about your time at the State Department. Could you pick one of the technology delegations you led and just narrate it? We hear a lot about "technology delegations," but don't really know what that phrase means.
JC: I might as well start with the first one. The first technology delegation [the State Department] did was in April of 2009 to Iraq: It was me and nine techies from the private sector, including representatives from Google and YouTube.
We met with senior government officials in and around Baghdad. Then we met with American troops, NGOs, private-sector companies, like cell-phone carriers. We met with professors and academics and academic administrators. We met with tons of students. I led the delegation, and it was staffed by people at the embassy; I was the only person from Washington.
I had a very good relationship with the public affairs counselor there, Adam Ereli, who is a really, really smart "push the envelope" kind of guy, who had pitched an idea to me to get some professors out [to Iraq]. Now, we [at the State Department] often lead delegations of academics and NGOs to countries around the world, but we hadn't led delegations of people with expertise on tools. So, I thought: Why don't we take a delegation of technology executives to Iraq?