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Jim Gilliam's Viral Video as 'Radical Sincerity'

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, June 8 2011

Jim Gilliam. Photo: Esty Stein / Personal Democracy Forum

Yesterday, Jim Gilliam demonstrated the power of something one could maybe call "radical sincerity."

Drawing on years of theory from his time in Christian church, online organizing, new media production and activism, Gilliam chose the best possible capsule he could think of for a complicated, controversial, and thought-provoking message that equated the power of God to the power of interpersonal human connectedness the that Internet facilitates: He made a sincere and honest statement about the way the Internet has changed his life, the same way that a Christian might stand up in church and describe the impact of Christ. He testified. After maybe a day on the Internet, according to our internal statistics, the Livestream video of that testimony has accumulated over 62,000 views.

This is familiar ground for people in online organizing; the New Organizing Institute offers online workshops on how to take personal narrative and use it to empower an individual or a cause. But it was absolutely not what you would expect to have happen from the main stage at a technology conference — in fact, it was transgressive to social norms about everything you would expect to see from someone standing in front of a room stacked with nearly 800 people shoulder to shoulder, and four cameras broadcasting live to hundreds more. Religion at a conference about technology in politics? A personal life story on the same stage that saw heady talk about statecraft and Internet infrastructure? A guy staring out at rows of faces tilted downwards at laptops, not up at him — at least at first — and explaining that he can feel Christ in the wi-fi? Unexpected. Transgressive. Radical, because it was painfully sincere.

But that sincerity tilted the eyes of the crowd back upwards. It grabbed attention. And it continues to do so.

Gilliam's video is still rippling outwards through the Internet, but Cory Doctorow, another PdF 2011 speaker, has already posted it to the popular blog BoingBoing. Other bloggers have already found and are sharing Gilliam's message. See also Betanews' Jake Levine, on his personal blog. Our own internal statistics show that his individual video had over 62,000 views on Livestream as of this afternoon, maybe a day after it was first uploaded.

There's more to say about Gilliam's message, of course, and how it is being received. But at a conference where other speakers, like Mona Eltahawy, Rasha Abdulla and Alaa Abd el Fattah all spoke at length about the power of the Internet combined with personal narrative, Gilliam actually put that power to use, in his own way. And that's fascinating all on its own.

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