Saturday, January 7, 2012

Technology: Isn't It A Wonderful Thing?!

I’m not going to get into this too deep because, quite frankly, I don’t know what I’m talking about! iPhones, iPads, iMovie, iRobot, Garage Band, Google Voice, and any other “i’s “ out there: They’re simply amazing. I’m sure everything I just listed is already out of date. Do excuse me, I live in Azerbaijan. That last point, my current location, is actually the topic of the post: Azerbaijan and technology.

I’m not talking about the products themselves, I’m talking about the productions they make possible. I can create songs in which even my voice sounds like an angel, albeit and angel with strep throat. I can shoot and edit movies like James Cameron, okay fine not that good, and I can call my best friends back home like I was down the street from them. To many of you back home, this may be old news, and you may have already stopped reading this post. But, to people here in Azerbaijan, this new self-expression, be-your-own producer, anything’s possible with a little electricity craze is blowing up, and the reception it’s getting here is fantastic!

We all know where it starts. We talk about Facebook as this weapon, this mega world of its own with infinite wealth, power, and possibility. The crazy thing is, it’s not just semantics. Facebook’s role in the Arab Spring says it all.  I’m not going to delve into that specific topic any further though; you all know what I’m talking about. The real inspiration for this post is this video.

I’ve posted it before. Two of my friends, Brad and Tim, made a music video,  a spoof of “New York State of Mind”. They replaced Jay-Z’s love for NYC with their own shout out to Baku. Here’s an excerpt from a recent Serbian news article about the video.
From the moment it was uploaded on YouTube, the promotional video "Baku, state of mind - ESC 2012", was viewed over 10,000 times in just a few hours. In other words several million people saw the video offering a cover of the famous Alicia Keys song Empire State of Mind. "Baku, state of mind - ESC 2012" is regarded by many as the best promotion yet for the upcoming 2012 Eurovision Song Contest in Azerbaijan with an almost equal number of YouTube visits as the duo Eli and Niki - this year's winners in Düsseldorf.
Despite the slight numerical inaccuracies, it’s out there in a big way, with 146,158 views to date. Azeris have eaten it up, and they’re looking for more. Brad has passed the first round of try outs to represent Azerbaijan at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Baku, one of the most watched and longest running programs in the world! Since this video was put up, they have been on national television (I was on the set for that), been on stage with last year’s Eurovision winners, been in national and international press (including The Economist), been called by directors and producers and the like, and been offered money to make more videos about Azerbaijan.

Why all the hype? Yes, of course, it’s a great video! I would never take anything away from the two of them. They deserve all the credit in the world. On the other hand, it’s a simple parody video with quirky rhymes and an artificial beat. It’s nothing new. Yet even though it’s been done a million times before, it’s ignited heated debates and comments – 1,224 in all! As we PCVs try and figure out our surroundings and the best way to get through to people, I think we can learn a valuable lesson here. Actually, many of us already have. Volunteers throughout the country, including myself, have started making videos with their kids. The interest level is through the roof and the lessons are invaluable.

Azerbaijan, and maybe this whole part of the world, is going through something very special right now. They may be a little behind the times through our perspective, but they’re catching up very quickly! We all went crazy when Andy Samberg and SNL came out with “The Chronicles of Narnia”. We ate it up. But why? Why did it capture our attention with such force? Just like “Baku State of Mind” has spread through Azerbaijan like a wildfire, this SNL skit did something we had never really seen before: two normal guys, albeit talented guys, making a catchy song about absolutely nothing consequential. No special effects, no yachts, no Go-go dancers in the background, just two funny guys making jokes on camera. The fact is, it was self expression and creativity at its very best, and it opened the flood gates. That shock wave continues to influence our culture everyday. Now, Azerbaijanis are catching on and making a wave of their own.

I think this new trend can be partially attributed to an awakening of creativity and self-expression following decades of Soviet oppression. I also believe that the recent technology boom is giving more and more people access to the simple technologies needed to produce big things. However, problems still arise. In America, when we buy a Mac, it comes with every program we could ever want, free. If we have problems with our PC, or want new software upgrades, we take it to Best Buy and have the Geek Squad works their magic. Here, Chinese knockoffs and pirated, virus laden versions of our favorite programs poison the system; it can be very frustrating. It takes a special, determined individual to succeed and come out with the best projects. Many volunteers see these problems as very teachable moments, trying to bridge the gap in our access to technology and teach responsibility.

Whatever the cause(s), it making a monstrous impact. Get ready, Azerbaijan’s coming! Whether it’s Baku’s state of mind or zombies attacking, you better watch out! (You get the pun?!)

Below, I am proud to present the newest creation from the students of Balaken. This video is part of a contest that is happening across the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia). The students had to make a move under 5 minutes in length about their home. Please watch it and then ‘Like’ it on Youtube. The video with the most ‘Likes’ by January 23 will win a camera! They worked very hard on this project!


  1. Thank god it's not you singing. If you ever need a lead singer let me know. I've been told that I am the songbird of my generation. My voice is sort of a mix between Fergie and Jesus. So yeah, I'm that good.

    Love ya,