Before you say “Someone already did your idea,” I should point out that no one has done it quite the way I’m describing it.
What I’d like to see is a pen pal web site designed to end war. The idea would be to connect citizens in different countries at such a high rate it would be politically impossible for the two countries to start a war.
You might support your government in a war against a country full of people you don’t know. But would you support a war that has a good chance of killing your e-mail friend Phlubanakawahaha and his entire family? There is some theoretical level of citizen-to-citizen contact that makes war between two countries virtually impossible.
And think how much you could learn if you had a pen pal in Iran or Syria or China. It would be hugely interesting, especially for senior citizens and students who have extra time on their hands.
The Internet forces most users to learn English. I don’t know the percentage of English-speaking Internet users in other countries, but it is probably fairly high. Still, you’d need your pen pal service to translate automatically. I could send my e-mail in English and have it translated automatically into Spanish or whatever.
Internet penetration isn’t as high as it needs to be worldwide for this idea to work yet, but we’re getting there. This would be about the right time to get the system going. Maybe it’s a good project for the U.N., funded by the Gates Foundation.
The $100 laptops we keep hearing about will eventually give Internet access to even small villages. Imagine having a pen pal in some tiny African village. You learn that all they need is one of those foot-operated water pumps for irrigating fields and a bag of seeds and they can build a decent life. For a few hundred dollars you could save an entire village and get to see the results in real time. Who could resist?
While we wait for all of that to happen, I will clear a place above the TV for my Nobel Peace Prize.