U.S. Should Use High-Tech Diplomacy

As Barack Obama continues to put his stamp on U.S. foreign policy, he would do well to use the growing role that high-tech firms have been playing lately on the world stage to his advantage. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, U.S. firms project a lot of digital soft power, which could be used to advance America's foreign interests.It wouldn't be the first time American businesses spearheaded the country's engagement with the outside world. Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Warner Brothers, and other giants in the past helped to shape the foreign image of the United States, generating tremendous cultural capital along the way. Globalization put a taint on that image for a while, but lately Silicon Valley has been leading the way back into global fashion.The agenda of U.S. high-tech firms has for the most part been conspicuously well-meaning (think of Google's motto, "Don't be evil"). Even Microsoft, the target lately of Europe's anticompetition police, seems benign next to, say, Chevron or...

Religious Groups Turn to Technology

If you had to choose one weapon for fighting the next religious war, you could do worse than to pick an iPhone. In recent months, the foot soldiers of religion have come out with a bevy of new programs designed to win converts and make religious practices more accessible. For those of the Jewish faith, iBlessing helps in figuring out which blessings go with which food, ParveOMeter keeps track of the waiting times between eating meat and dairy, and Siddur gives prayer times based on one's GPS coordinates. Devout Roman Catholics will appreciate iBreviary, which pulls up and displays complete missal and principal prayers in Spanish, French, English, Latin, and Italian.Ever since Galileo, the relationship between technology and organized religion has been uneasy. The printing press helped spread the Gospel and win new adherents to Christianity, but it also greatly undermined the Catholic Church's information monopoly. To avoid repeating this mistake, religious organizations are...

Opinion: Internet Activism Accomplishes Little

It has happened to all of us: a friend forwards an e-mail urging you to sign an online petition or join a Facebook group for some noble cause like saving Darfur or stopping deforestation. Most of us, out of respect for the friend or because we agree with the cause, click ACCEPT or AGREE, often without giving the issue much thought. After all, it can't hurt, can it?The proliferation of social-networking sites like Facebook has spawned a new and particularly superficial form of activism. It asks nothing more from participants than a few mouse clicks and makes everyone feel good. But these empty campaigns may not accomplish much, if anything, in the way of social change, and could even distract people from supporting legitimate causes.Take one of the most popular Facebook campaigns, which purports to "save the children of Africa." It has more than 600,000 members who have collectively raised the grand sum of $2,801 (0.4 cents each). Its "hall of fame" features a top recruiter, who...

Facebook Diplomacy

Washington wants to use the Web 2.0 to win hearts and minds. Trouble is, the tyrants got there first.