Brain Pickings

The Internet Is My Religion: Jim Gilliam on the Divinity of the Web


Startups, spirituality and why connectedness is next to godliness.

A lot has been said recently about the future of the internet and how it’s changing our lives. Meanwhile, the age-old debate about science and religion rages on. These two worlds, of technology and of faith, hardly ever seem to converge, but perhaps there’s more at this intersection than we dare admit.

At Personal Democracy Forum 2011, which took place earlier this week, Jim Gilliam — bona fide geek, founder of an ambitious startup building tools to disrupt a broken political system — gave a deeply personal and immensely moving talk titled The Internet Is My Religion, in which he shared the incredible true story of how the interconnectedness of the social web gave him, quite literally, his life back.

These are the best 10 minutes you’ll spend this week, guaranteed.

God is what happens when humanity is connected. Humanity connected is God. [E]ach one of us is a creator but, together, we are THE creator.” ~ Jim Gilliam

Thanks, Juliette

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

Power: Platon’s Portraits of World Leaders


A geopolitical time capsule, or how to get Mahmoud Abbas and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad an inch apart.

World leaders are a curious bunch. Among their traits one might list egotism, empathy, genius, oblivion, and a whole host of other adjectives; which is why looking at their faces makes for such a fascinating study. Power: Portraits of World Leaders, out a few weeks ago from Chronicle Books, is a one-of-a-kind compilation of precisely those inscrutable features. Power collects 150 such beautiful images by photographer Platon of the men and women – well, mostly men – that hold the reigns of regimes and republics across the globe.

With an introduction by New Yorker editor David Remnick, the book captures a singular moment in world history. Indeed, one might argue, an historical inflection point, since the image of President Barack Obama included in Power was taken during his election campaign. Platon took all of the photographs of international leaders within a 12-month period from 2008-09 at the United Nations, and his stunning pictures tell a story of the alliances, rivalries, and subjects of our time.

I wanted to do two things: I wanted to show the human experience of what it’s like to meet someone, up-close and personal. We see all these heads of state and government on podiums making big powerful speeches, but we never see them as human beings. The second thing was I wanted to get a sense of community. I wanted to show what the collective spirit is like. There are strained relationships; there are strong alliances; in some cases there are even conflicts.” ~ Platon

Power stands in especially interesting counterpoint to a book featured on Brain Pickings earlier this year, Bureaucratics. Where that work turned its lens on the lives of mid-level functionaries in our political systems, Power is interested in the very top of the order. Platon’s photos are also compelling when compared to two other favorite projects, The World of 100 and 7 Billion, because of how non-representative his almost entirely male, similarly aged group of subjects is when compared to the actual global population.

My portrait project is not political; it’s human. Every single person has brought something special and unique and, I hope, honest to the pictures. You put all the pictures together and I think it will give us a sense of what it was like to live in these times. This is the global personality of the power system. And as we leave the time that’s recorded in the book, we stand back. We start to analyze it historically. What happened? Who was in control? That’s what this book is about.” ~ Platon

Three years in the making, Power provides a singular opportunity to contemplate the people and predilections of our contemporary age. And for commentary on the photos from Platon, check out his portrait gallery on The New Yorker‘s website.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:

You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

The Perfect City: What Does “Community” Mean to You?


What borrowing sugar has to do with robust public life.

Last year, the wonderful Fifty People One Question offered a poetic glimpse of the soul of four communities, and last month the city of Grand Rapids demonstrated the goosebumps-inducing power of community. I’m relentlessly fascinated by cities and what it is that transforms them from shared urban space into thriving, lively communities full of shared humanity, vision and aspiration, so I was happy to take part in a think-tank event by nonprofit CEOs for Cities last fall, which assembled some of the country’s brightest minds in urban planning, design, policy, information technology and other facets of culture to dissect the elements of “robust public life” and how to best foster them in building successful, happy communities that attract and retain talent.

That’s exactly what this beautifully filmed short video explores, by asking people one simple but profound question: “What does ‘community’ mean to you?”

I’d love to be able to walk out and know everybody in my community.”

Something that kind of has a little bit of everything and access to everything, but still is quiet, so it’s not so quite so hustle-and-bustle.”

I like to pass other people who are walking their dogs early in the morning or late at night.”

A few universal needs seem to emerge: Walkability, a combination of private space and readily available entertainment, face-to-face interaction with neighbors and, more than anything, a sense of belonging.

What’s your ideal community?

via The Atlantic

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.