'Chat the Planet' Brings Views from Iraq to the Web Until recently, it wasn't possible for most ordinary Americans to enter into dialogue with people living in the midst of a war. The Internet has changed all that — a company called Chat the Planet is using Web sites like Salon and YouTube to enable young people from all over the world to communicate via live and produced video.

'Chat the Planet' Brings Views from Iraq to the Web

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

If you peruse any online video-sharing site, you'll find a lot of home videos of pets, poached bits of television shows, music videos by pop stars, and music videos by lip-synching teenagers. Well, NPR's Laura Sydell reports on a new group of online videos that are a little more serious. They're created by three young Iraqis who want to depict daily life in Baghdad.

LAURA SYDELL: Before the Iraq War, 23-year-old Adel Hiyeli(ph) played in a heavy metal band. He loves the American groups Metallica and Megadeth. Since the war, he still tries to play his guitar in the sweltering heat.

Mr. ADEL HIYELI (23-year-old Iraqi): Let's get naked and play. You have a problem with that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man: Yeah.

Mr. HIYELI: Hope not.

Unidentified Man: Okay. (Unintelligible)

SYDELL: It's hard to play electric guitar when there are only two hours of electricity a day, and no air conditioning. And some days, Hiyeli can't leave his house to get to college where he studies engineering.

Mr. HIYELI: Oh, I was going to meet my friends in college, and to prepare us -prepare for the exams but I couldn't get out today, and I think the reason is like - well, why don't you just hear for yourself.

(Soundbite of noise)

SYDELL: Hiyeli has been carrying a video camera around through parts of the city where journalists can no longer safely go. He volunteered to be part of a project with an organization called Chat the Planet. The group tries to initiate conversations between youth around the world. He and two other Iraqi college students have been documenting their lives over a year and a half. More videos will be released over the next 13 weeks on the online magazine Salon.com, and on a blog called Hometown Baghdad.com.

Chat the Planet was able to develop relationships with the students in Baghdad over the Internet. Mike DiBenedetto is one of the producers based in New York City.

Mr. MIKE DIBENEDETTO (Chat the Planet): Because of really basic Internet technology, I've been able to talk to Fady, the Iraqi producer in Baghdad. I talk to him more often than I talk to my parents.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DIBENEDETTO: You know, we talk every single day.

SYDELL: That's Laurie Meadoff, laughing in the background. Meadoff is co-founder of Chat the Planet. When it first began in 2002, the organization used traditional media to foster communication between young people in different countries. It worked with MTV and foreign broadcasters to produce programs where youth talk to each other from TV studios in the U.S., Jordan, Israel, and South Africa. Viewers of the new Hometown Baghdad videos can exchange e-mails with the young filmmakers in Iraq.

Meadoff says the Internet is enabling an entirely new level of communication.

Ms. LAURIE MEADOFF (Co-founder, Chat the Planet): So now, how do we deepen the level of dialogue, of conversations with each other so that there's meaning, and could you imagine that meaning then moving into action? All of that is completely possible with what's going on. It is truly to me the Wild West, and it's so damn exciting.

SYDELL: The Internet's ability to make international connection easier and cheap is unquestionable. Since the first video was released just over a week ago, tens of thousands have watched, and thousands have engaged in conversations with the producers in Baghdad. But even carrying a camera is not safe in Iraq. During a recent conversation on his cell phone from Baghdad, Hiyeli explained why he was willing to take the risk.

Mr. HIYELI: I think the world is becoming numb to the headlines of the dead people in Iraq. I just want the world to realize what's really happening in Iraq.

SYDELL: If the world is really seeing what is happening in Hiyeli's life -Clifford Nass, a professor of communications at Stanford, questions how the public views these kinds of interactions. He says when people used to hear from international pen pals on paper, they recognized it as the interpretation of one person. But when an exchange is documented on the Internet, it can seem more authoritative.

Professor CLIFFORD NASS (Communications, Stanford University): When I chat with someone one-on-one, I'm not choosing my words in the same way. I'm having a conversation. But when you take that conversation that's meant as a one-to-one conversation, and now make it a mass media event, exactly like it were a news story, then you run into huge problems.

SYDELL: Nass says while these videos and communications do offer a unique glimpse of life in Baghdad, they are not news reports. But it's hard to deny the power that personal communications have. One Web site user named Ed(ph) wrote to Zaid(ph), another guitarist in Baghdad: I do hope for the day when I might be able to visit a new peaceful Iraq so I can bring my guitar and jam with you guys.

A day later, Zaid responded and said, hey Ed, I hope that we can do that in the future: singing and playing guitar, sitting on the Tigris riverbank in a clean Baghdad.

Laura Sydell, NPR News.

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