The Best Video on the Internet

June 11, 2011

by — Posted in Blog, emerging church, Ideas, New Media, Spiritual Practices, Technology, Video

I don’t publish rubbish to my readers, now, do I? No, only quality stuff for you here on Knightopia. So that’s what you’ve come to expect, and that’s what I aim to deliver. Such as today’s update, featuring “The Best Video on the Internet.” Or rather, “The Best Video About the Internet.” Or, I would actually put it this way: “The Most Provocative Video About the Internet That’s Posted On the Internet Right Now.”

This video comes from the Personal Democracy Forum conference earlier this week in New York. The speaker is Jim Gilliam, founder of 3dna and an Internet pioneer/veteran. The subject is “The Internet Is My Religion,” and in this short, 12-minute TED-style talk, Jim shares his personal story and how he’s come to view the Internet as his religion.

Meeting Jim
I remember meeting Jim Gilliam in April 2005 at Liberty University, of all places. (The Internet Archive helped me find a blog post from the time.) I had organized a panel discussion on blogging for an Internet evangelism conference that was being held at Liberty. I was working for Billy Graham’s Internet division at the time, so speaking at places like Liberty wasn’t such a strange thing for me.

Jim was a Liberty alum (as he mentions in his talk), and he was a mutual friend of (fellow Liberty alum) Will Samson, who was speaking on the panel with me (along with DJ Chuang, Stephen Shields, and Nick Ciske). Will had helped setup the first Emergent Village website, way back in the day, and that was my connection to him.

That panel, by the way, was later published in a book and more recently quoted extensively in Craig von Buseck’s book Netcasters (B&H Books, 2010). I guess we had some good things to say back then … But I digress …

Jim Gilliam at PDF2011

The Internet As Religion
In his talk, Jim concludes, “God is just what happens when humanity is connected. … We all have this same cross to bear. We all owe our lives to countless people we’ll never meet. … I have faith in people, I believe in God, and the Internet is my religion.”

Nick Judd at PDF called it “a complicated, controversial, and thought-provoking message that equated the power of God to the power of interpersonal human connectedness the that Internet facilitates.” So, perhaps the “God = the Internet” message is just a metaphor, an “equation.”

The official video description itself states: “Jim Gilliam gave this inspiring talk about his life, his battles with cancer, and how he found grace in the networks and connections that the Internet makes possible.” Finding grace (God’s grace) in the networks and connections that the Internet makes possible. I can dig that.

Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at The American Scene wrote, “I do believe that God ‘happens’ when humanity is connected. I also believe that God is more and not ‘just’ that, but I also think it’s as important to get the first part as it is to get the second part.” Amen.

Kate Shellnutt at the Houston Chronicle believes what Gilliam is really talking about is the Internet replacing the role of the church in many of our lives: “It’s arguable that today’s Internet has in some ways become the church.” I think this suggestion makes a lot of sense, and churches need to pay attention to this if they want to have any place in broader society going into the future.

When Does the Internet Become a Religion?
At the e-G8 Forum in Paris last month, my self-chosen personal Internet guru Jeff Jarvis challenged world leaders to take a Hippocratic oath for the Internet: First, do no harm. Jarvis also offered his “bill of rights” for the Internet, which starts with, “We have the right to connect.”

Perhaps this is where the values of the Internet become the religion of the Internet: when we shift from “the right to connect” to “the responsibility to connect,” as Gilliam suggests in his talk. Does the Internet simply allow us to connect? Or is there an inherent obligation for us to connect? And not just connect, but to connect and interact in socially responsible and positive ways.

I think Jim Gilliam has certainly moved the conversation forward in ways that I’ll be thinking about for quite some time. I think the implications for missional faith communities are tremendous. I’d love to continue this discussion (with Jim himself, at some point) and with all of you.

What do you think about Jim’s speech? Are you going to sign his “The Internet Is My Religion” petition? Why or why not?

Simon Mainwaring, ex-Nike/Weiden creative and Fast Company blogger, has written an intriguing new book (related to this whole discussion) called We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World.

UPDATE 6/11/2011: One of my other Internet and media technology gurus is Shane Hipps, a Mennonite who’s the teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan (along with Rob Bell). I finally got to meet Shane — and have a couple of really interesting conversations with him — at the Big Tent Christianity conference earlier this year in Phoenix.

I just came across this recent interview with Shane (via Mike Friesen‘s blog), and I had to post it here as it relates to technology and spirituality. In this whole conversation, Shane’s voice is one I am keenly interested in and one I’m regularly listening to (and I think you should be also):


Photo: Esty Stein / Personal Democracy Forum

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