As a graduate student, Jared Cohen wangled a visa to Iran, where he hung out at Internet cafés and house parties fueled by bathtub gin. From there his journeys took him to beach parties in Lebanon, Palestinian refugee camps, raves in Syria organized using Bluetooth and other places not usually frequented by nice Jewish boys from the Connecticut suburbs. Out of these experiences came a book, Children of Jihad, and a fascination with life at the intersection of technology and geopolitics. He joined the State Department’s Policy Planning staff and, along with other geogeeks like Alec Ross, helped shape what became known as 21st century statecraft, which added social media to the tool kit of diplomacy. When Twitter was planning to shut down for maintenance right before the 2009 Iranian elections, Cohen persuaded the company not to because it had become an organizing method for young dissidents.
In 2010, Cohen left State to found Google Ideas, which focuses on how technology can help make the world better. One example: in April he led Google in donating $3 million to create a database system to connect 65 independent hotlines used to report human trafficking. He and Google chair Eric Schmidt have just published a book, The New Digital Age, that analyzes this global transformation. It should establish Cohen as one of the pre-eminent navigators of the networked world.
Isaacson is the author of Steve Jobs and CEO of the Aspen Institute
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