WEEKLY NEWS DIGEST (February 28-March 6, 2011)

TECHNOLOGY

Religious apps grow in availability, popularity.” By Lisa Fernandez. San Jose Mercury-News. February 27, 2011. Just before sundown Friday, a group of plugged-in Jews released a custom-made app to alert their Facebook friends and Twitter followers that they were checking out, logging off and generally not answering their e-mails for the next 25 hours. Then, with iPhones tucked away in a cutesy sleeping bag, these frenetic, high-tech Jews met — in real time — at an organic ranch in Los Altos Hills to drink wine, break bread and honor the Jewish mandate of not using technology on Shabbat. This just-off-the-shelf smartphone application, the Sabbath Manifesto, was designed by members of a Jewish nonprofit called Reboot. And it’s just one of a plethora of religious apps bombarding the online landscape as each faith tries to stake its claim. Many see these electronic forms of religion as an extension of age-old concepts of study, prayer and evangelism. Others see the apps as potentially controversial, or confusing at best, when a Buddhist meditation timer or the teachings of Jesus are juxtaposed next to “Angry Birds” and a Netflix account. What’s clear, however, is that the number of religious apps is growing at a pace impossible to count. “Everyone wants their religious presence on that space,” said Rachel Wagner, an assistant professor of religion at Ithaca College, author of “Sacred Texting” and an upcoming book, “Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality.” “They want the online world to be colonized by their apps.”

Obama administration joins critics of U.S. nonprofit group that oversees Internet.” By Ian Shapira. Washington Post. February 28, 2011. The California nonprofit organization that operates the Internet’s levers has always been a target for such global heavies as Russia and China that prefer the United Nations to be in charge of the Web. But these days, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is fending off attacks from a seemingly unlikely source: the Obama administration. Concerned about the growing movement to cede oversight to the U.N., the U.S. government, which helped create ICANN in 1998, has been reprimanding the nonprofit group to give foreign nations more say over the Web’s operations. The battle has come at a sensitive time for ICANN, which this month is meeting with foreign governments as it pulls off the biggest expansion ever of Web suffixes – including .gay, .muslim and .nazi. Also this fall, the nonprofit organization is seeking to hold on to its federal contract to oversee the Web’s master database of addresses – a sweeping power that governments fear could be used to shut down foreign domains that the United States finds unsavory. “There’s a deeper question of how the world is reacting to a small company – even a nonprofit – completely in charge of a key part of the Internet. Is that acceptable? There’s no 100 percent comfortable solution here,” said Steve Crocker, ICANN’s vice chairman, who lives in Bethesda and is the chief executive of Shinkuro, a technology company. With some Middle East countries shutting down the Internet within their borders to curb uprisings, the question of who runs the Web is increasingly figuring into global foreign policy debates. Some fear that governments such as those of Libya or Iran could more easily crush rebellions if they gained more control over the Internet’s inner workings.

For BIL, Tagging Along With TED Proves to Be an Excellent Adventure; An ‘Unconference’ Shadows Meeting of High Fliers; Couch Surfing, Carpools, Low Expectations.” By Erica Orden. Wall Street Journal. March 1, 2011. For jet-setting CEOs, academics and artists descending on Long Beach, Calif., this week to schmooze with the likes of Bill Gates and Stanley McChrystal, there’s nothing quite like TED, an annual tech extravaganza billed as the “ultimate brain spa” that costs $6,000 a ticket. The exclusive TED conference has an upstart little follower. It’s called BIL and it’s free and open to anyone who wants to attend or give a lecture. WSJ’s Erica Orden reports. For everyone else, there’s BIL. BIL is the “unconference” that has been a tagalong with TED since 2008, held the same week and as close as possible to the more glittering gathering. “BIL sort of formed out of a desire to shadow TED,” says Eric Gradman, a roboticist who spoke at the first BIL, in 2008. For example, Mr. Gradman says, “TED often defaults to, ‘How can we use neuroscience to help the sick?’ and BIL says, ‘How can we use those same technologies to make humans even more awesome?’” A TED spokeswoman, when offered several chances to talk about BIL and its relationship with TED, declined.

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