Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

Where the Church of the Internet Goes From Here

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, June 8 2011

Jim Gilliam, you might have heard, gave a provocative and stirring talk at Personal Democracy Forum yesterday in which he declared that "The Internet is My Religion." Gilliam described his embrace of a faith in the connective and transformative power of the Internet, set in the context of his enduring the horrors of cancer.

What now? Well, for one thing, there were fascinating reactions to Gilliam's talk in the Christian blogosphere. Gilliam's video was posted on the blog Jesus Needs New PR, prompting the comment from one watcher that "yes, he's inspirational," and "yes, he's blaspheming." More contemplative was the take of another commenter who saw in Gilliam's talk an understanding of the Internet as serving in the church-like role of community builder. "I see his point quite clearly," wrote the commenter. "Centuries ago the temple was people’s religion. Their center. Their community. Then churches for a long time became the center. Our religion. They usually built the church first in the center. It was the community center. The hub. Where people came together."

"Jim says his center, his community, his religion is the internet. I believe the same is true for many of us here. Blogging. Reading. Commenting. Connecting." The Internet, then, becomes a substitute for a functioning church -- providing the sense of human community that the Christian church might have come to lack.

And when Jim stopped by the PdF office today, I took the opportunity to ask him the question that popped up during the talk, and stayed with me. Where does nature -- the land of rocks and trees and animals and other human physical forms -- fit into all this? Jim, remember, is a survivor of a virulent cancer. That trial included a double lung transplant, an experience his father blogged about. Nature doesn't hold that much magic, answered Jim. "The physical world has been really hard for me. Everything that has happened to me online has been incredible. Everything in the physical world has been a nightmare."

More than that, Gilliam and I also talked about the idea that not only can his talk be read as a critique of the Christian church, but it can also stand as a challenge to the lack of, well, evangelizing that the Internet's early creators and latter-day perpetuators can done about the power and meaning of the medium. It's as if they dropped into the world this immensely powerful technology and, to be dramatic about it, kinda walked away. You can argue that that approach, while understandably, had come back to haunt them -- and us. Witness folks like John Perry Barlow and Yochai Benkler and Susan Crawford heading over to the e-G8 in Paris last month to make the somewhat belated case that the Internet is about more than Facebook and Google and the CEOs and the COOs of those companies.

I also suggested to Jim that his "The Internet is My Religion" speech could be the new "A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace," Barlow's famous 1996 manifesto. Gilliam seemed to shiver with embarrassment, or just humility. But it is as ambitious in framing the way that we think about the Internet. It represents, though, a different sort of metaphor than the one that Barlow advanced -- one set in the political realm. "We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace," wrote Barlow. "May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before." And then there's the way that writer and digital creator Steven Johnson talked about things in his talk at PdF, where he floated the idea of a "Netarian" political philosophy.

Jim, though, is shifting our attention to the spiritual realm. "Each of us is a creator," said Gilliam at a a crescendo of his talk, pointing skyward. "But together, we are The Creator." Fascinating stuff. And as the Internet only becomes more central to human life, from Tahrir Square to the labs of Stanford to deep within the hearts and minds of millions of people all over the globe, the question of what this networks of networks means, really, will, too, take on greater significance.

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

friday >

In Google Hangout, NYC Mayor de Blasio Talks Tech and Outer Borough Potential

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the lead of President Obama and New York City Council member Ben Kallos Friday by participating in a Google Hangout to help mark his first 100 days in office, in which the conversation focused on expanding access to technology opportunities through education and ensuring that the needs of the so-called "outer boroughs" aren't overlooked. GO

thursday >

In Pakistan, A Hypocritical Gov't Ignores Calls To End YouTube Ban

YouTube has been blocked in Pakistan by executive order since September 2012, after the “blasphemous” video Innocence of Muslims started riots in the Middle East. Since then, civil society organizations and Internet rights advocacy groups like Bolo Bhi and Bytes for All have been working to lift the ban. Last August the return of YouTube seemed imminent—the then-new IT Minister Anusha Rehman spoke optimistically and her party, which had won the majority a few months before, was said to be “seriously contemplating” ending the ban. And yet since then, Rehman and her party, the conservative Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), have done everything in their power to maintain the status quo.

GO

The #NotABugSplat Campaign Aims to Give Drone Operators Pause Before They Strike

In the #NotABugSplat campaign that launched this week, a group of American, French and Pakistani artists sought to raise awareness of the effects of drone strikes by placing a field-sized image of a young girl, orphaned when a drone strike killed her family, in a heavily targeted region of Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province. Its giant size is visible to those who operate drone strikes as well as in satellite imagery. GO

Boston and Cambridge Move Towards More Open Data

The Boston City Council is now considering an ordinance which would require Boston city agencies and departments to make government data available online using open standards. Boston City Councilor At Large Michelle Wu, who introduced the legislation Wednesday, officially announced her proposal Monday, the same day Boston Mayor Martin Walsh issued an executive order establishing an open data policy under which all city departments are directed to publish appropriate data sets under established accessibility, API and format standards. GO

YouTube Still Blocked In Turkey, Even After Courts Rule It Violates Human Rights, Infringes on Free Speech

Reuters reports that even after a Turkish court ruled to lift the ban on YouTube, Turkey's telecommunications companies continue to block the video sharing site.

GO

More