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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

I’m mesmerized by this robot that writes slow meandering poetry out of sand. Brings a whole new meaning to the impermanence of language and art.


Watching this and thinking of Sherry Turkle’s warning that adults are much more susceptible to technology’s lure than children today. It’s funny… because it’s true.


An enchanting hour of poetry drawing on the ways family and religion shape our lives. Marie Howe, poet laureate of New York State, works and plays with her Catholic upbringing, the universal drama of family, and the ordinary time that sustains us. The moral life, she says, is lived out in what we say as much as what we do — and so words have a power to save us.

The pope is fully illuminated. The ubiquity of screens in eight short years.
(courtesy of NBC News via @d_mcg)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The pope is fully illuminated. The ubiquity of screens in eight short years.
(courtesy of NBC News via @d_mcg)
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The pope is fully illuminated. The ubiquity of screens in eight short years.

(courtesy of NBC News via @d_mcg)

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor


The response to this week’s show with Seth Godin has been overwhelming. And, we’re finding that a lot of folks are listening to the unedited interview right after they finish listening to the produced podcast. So why wouldn’t I offer it up to our Tumblr friends to reblog/download/share!

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor


Internet Everywhere: The Future of History’s Most Disruptive Technology (live video)

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

In "Alive Enough?," the director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, Sherry Turkle, cautions that technology is not alienating in and of itself, but that we must mature as our ever-expanding relationship with technology grows. And, she says, we can and must lead examined lives with our digital objects — actively shaping technology to human purposes.

Well, at this year’s World Science Festival, some of the pioneers (including Vint Cerf) of these disruptive technologies examine “the Internet’s brief but explosive history and reveal nascent projects that will shortly reinvent how we interact with technology — and each other.” And they give us a view of what technologies and interactions are in our future.

The live webcast starts at 1pm Eastern. Our producer is there and will be live-tweeting this panel of dynamic thinkers from NYU’s Skirball Center. Watch the live video stream with us and let us know if there’s anybody you’d like us to interview for On Being.

Anonymous asked:
Recently there was news story about a new technique being used in photograpy; the new method allows a digital picture to be taken. Later it can be downloaded on the computer and focused on different points. The name of the process starts with the letter "N". Can you tell me the name of this new process?

Good morning, Anon—

Although this is definitely not our area of expertise (we do news through the lens of theology, human experience, and storytelling), I actually know what you’re asking about. The technology is called plenoptic, or light field, photography. Joshua Topolsky describes it this way in his review of the Lytro camera for The Washington Post:

"When normal cameras take a photo, they measure the color and light coming through the lens to produce an image. The Lytro camera not only sees color and light but can understand the direction the light moves in while snapping a photo.

Instead of simply grabbing one point of the light in a scene, Lytro analyzes all the points of light and then converts them to data. Once the image is stored, it can be processed and reprocessed after the photo is taken.

What does this mean, exactly?

Basically, it means that you’re able to take a photo and then refocus the subject in it after the fact. It means that if you take a picture of a friend in the foreground and there’s something exciting happening down the street, you can use Lytro’s custom software to refocus on the background, or almost anything else in the scene that you captured. It’s hard to explain, but it’s amazing.”

You can see how this works and play around with images on Lytro’s photo gallery. Check out these examples in which I changed the depth of field by first focusing on the near and then focusing on the distant end of the tree, with one click:

Lytro (focal point near)Lytro (focal point far)

The resolution of the photos has a long way to go. It’s rather poor, but apparently there’s hope. Here’s Eric Cheng, the director of photography at Lytro, explaining the technology and the company’s new camera.

Hope this helps!
Trent Gilliss, senior editor


Shared Paradise: Church of Kopimism Reshapes Society with File Sharing

by Robert M. Geraci, guest contributor

Church of Kopimism

There’s a new flying spaghetti monster in the spiritual marketplace: the Church of Kopimism. The newly “established” religion has become the talk of the internet, in part because of its transparently “unreligious” outlook and in part because of the group’s social perspective. The Church of Kopimism, which received official recognition as a religious denomination in Sweden, objects to what it calls the Copyright Religion and advocates free sharing of information by and for all. Though it lacks any particular resemblance to established religions, Kopimism has “beliefs and rituals,” which are held sufficient to establish it as a legal religious organization.

In the study of religion, we long ago gave up on creating a taxonomy that would — once and for all — allow us to demarcate the sacred from the profane and religious groups from secular. Nevertheless, there is something profoundly unreligious about Kopimism, and it is hard to overlook this glaring reality. Whether it is because the group lacks even the slightest reference to the supernatural or whether its patently political aims overdetermine it, few commentators seem willing to accept Kopimism as a legitimate religion. Indeed, it took several efforts before the Swedish government accepted the group, apparently out of concern that Kopimist practices lack a real form of “worship.”

In today’s world, there are lots of ways in which secular groups and practices have co-opted the religious. Calling them “authentic fakes,” David Chidester claims that these do authentically religious work despite the fact that they emerge from non-religious sources. But Chidester’s authentic fakes seem ever oriented toward a search for human meaning, especially through a connection with transcendent ideals. The Church of Kopimism shows no particular effort to create a meaningful life experience. Instead, just as Pastafarians struggled against the teaching of Intelligent Design in U.S. public schools, the Kopimists are enmeshed in the politics of file sharing.

At least since Stewart Brand’s declaration that “information wants to be free,” there have been techno-enthusiasts who have resisted the control of copyright holders and digital rights management. They believe that information ought to be widely distributed, and apply this principle to information that they can possess and disseminate via the internet. As such, a battle has been waged for more than a decade over the illegal distribution of music, videos, and even good old-fashioned e-books. The Kopimists declare that the search for knowledge is sacred and that copying is sacred because it increases the value of information; in their view, the copyrightists are sinners and the file sharers are saints.

The legitimation of Kopimism spread rapidly across the internet, thanks largely to mainstream coverage by the BBC and other news sources, and yet few know what to think of the group. Is it a joke, a political statement, or a legitimate religion? The brief notoriety of Flying Spaghetti Monsterism certainly provides a precedent for humorous, politically-minded new religious movements, but Kopimism is not like FSM. After all, the latter purports faith in a supernatural entity (“your Noodley Master”) and claims to compete with other religious beliefs, whereas Kopimism has nothing to say about traditional religions: the antithesis of Kopimism, Copyright Religion, is a faith whose adherents join, at best, unknowingly.

While the precise status of Kopimism is open to question, the movement does engage in one of the principle discursive efforts of religious life: social organization. Kopimism is a reflection of social distortion caused by media technologies, and an attempt to build a worldview that accommodates it. That information can be (very nearly) free indicates to some people that it “wants” to be. Among those who feel that the mere presence of online communication indicates that data must be shared, the present social reality must be undone and a new order established.

Like other religions, Kopimism takes part in the re-ordering of society. Religious discourses both legitimate and de-legitimate social orders, as Bruce Lincoln has argued; as such, faith in technology can be the impetus for new kinds of social structure. Brand and his followers in the Whole Earth Network and subsequent groups are a perfect example of how faith in the technology can be the lynchpin for a utopian social discourse. The Church of Kopimists is, unquestionably, a part of this effort. While Kopimists may pay only lip service to their status as a religion, they carry on the work of dismantling old social structures and building up new ones in the hope of an information-rich paradise.

Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Manhattan CollegeRobert M. Geraci is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Manhattan College. He is the author of Apocalyptic AI: Visions of Heaven in Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual Reality.

This essay is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.


Why I Cried When Steve Jobs Died

by Jennifer Cobb, guest contributor

Steve Jobs for Fortune magazineImage by Charis Tsevis/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It took me by surprise that I cried when Steve Jobs died. I was surprised to feel so moved by the loss of someone who was essentially a modern industrialist. But of course, his acumen as a businessman was not what I was mourning. Jobs’ work has moved us in ways that the work of his contemporary Bill Gates never has. Gates’s influence on our culture has been just as powerful, but has not touched as profoundly. Why?

The vast digital domain that we think of when we imagine information technology is essentially non-physical in nature. It is, by definition, incorporeal. But like all incorporeal things – our thoughts, our dreams, our faith, our souls – it relies on bodies for manifestation in the physical world. The digital needs the analog to express itself.

And this is what Steve Jobs did better than anyone else. He built beautiful bodies for our digital dreams. He understood before we did that we craved elegant containers for our disembodied hearts and minds. Every device he ever created, from the Apple 1 to the iPhone, was an expression of his deep, aesthetic commitment. And here he stood on the shoulder of giants, from Aristotle and Aquinas up to modern information theorists who assert that the best code is the simplest and most beautiful. As Keats so famously wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty — that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Job’s aesthetic began with the analog form of the device and then, quite naturally, extended into the digital function — the UI or user interface. The icons. The navigation. The information architecture at heart of the Apple OS. Analog and digital, form and function, hand in hand. Jobs was not just constructing bodies; he was giving them very particular and beautiful expressive capacities that are connected to something radically new in human experience; they plug us into a shared digital landscape filled with us and everything we bring to it.

Technology is our connective tissue. It joins us, hearts and minds. Jobs enabled this connection in a new way. He did not create the content that fills the devices he designed. He left it up to us to write songs, create art, make movies, write blog posts and emails and essays, send tweets and texts and build websites.

Jobs was a perfect reflection of our times. He made stuff that is so attractive, so enchanting, that he created a vast global desire for his products. His medium was technology and the context was capitalism. He made a lot of money for himself and for many other people. But by all accounts, the money wasn’t the point. The money was simply a validation of the fact that his vision was spreading throughout the world. And that vision was that the digital and the analog could be a thing of beauty when married with skill and vision.

The danger in the global mourning of his gifts is that we become so enchanted with the devices that we get lost in the interface and forget that the real point is what lies on the other side of the threshold. The devices are doorways into a larger, enchanted world of our shared creativity. They are not ends, they are beginnings.

Jennifer CobbJennifer Cobb is a business consultant specializing in marketing and strategy for public and private sector organizations. She has a degree in ethics from Union Theological Seminary and is the author of Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. She lives in Berkeley, California and blogs regularly at The Spruce Blog.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.


What Is the Path to Integrating Technology into Robust, Meaningful Living?

by Krista Tippett, host

We’ve been paying attention to Sherry Turkle for some time, as a thinker and observer on technology in terms of the human self, spirit, and identity. I love the philosophically witty title of one of her books: Simulation and Its Discontents. She is a social scientist through and through, an immensely serious researcher into what she calls the “subjective” side of technology. For over three decades, she’s been analyzing the inner effects of the digital tools that are transforming our days — how they affect our attention and relationships, our sense of reality, and even of “aliveness.”

Alone Together by Sherry TurkleEarlier this year, she made waves with her book Alone Together. That title itself has become a catchword for the ironic capacity of communications technologies to alienate us from one another. Alone Together was reviewed in that vein as well — as a call to unplug our tablets and phones, our players and laptops. And yet, as I read Sherry Turkle and listen to her speak, I hear her saying something far more thought-provoking and indeed hopeful:that each of us can find practical and meaningful ways to shape technology to our purposes, towards honoring what we hold dear in life.

Disarmed the thunder's fires.

I once heard Sherry Turkle insist to an interviewer, with some exasperation: “I’m not saying, ‘unplug.’ I’m saying, ‘reflect.’ I’m saying, ‘converse.’” And here is the starting point for the conversation she would encourage all of us to have within ourselves, within our workplaces, and especially within our families: just because we’ve grown up with the Internet doesn’t mean the Internet is grown up. The reality check is that we are meeting the glorious communications technologies of this century in their infancy. It is up to us to mature them, to direct them to the best of human potential, and to develop wise habits for living deliberately and sustainably with them.

Of all the perspectives she sheds on this challenge, none is more sobering than the fact that the adults she’s studied are at least as culpable as any teenagers in giving their lives over unthinkingly to digital gadgets. Far too often, she says, it is parents who are on their BlackBerries at the dinner table, parents responding to email and therefore failing to look up and meet their children’s eyes when they pick them up from school, parents failing to be present with and for their children in ordinary moments that make up the memories of a childhood — on playgrounds, on a nature walk.

Sherry Turkle puts arresting words around what is at stake. On a very deep level, for example, we can fail to teach our children the rewards of solitude — of being able to be at peace in our own company. This is an enduring human challenge. Yet the possibilities for missing it are perhaps more abundant and seductive in this generation. And, as Sherry Turkle reminds us, “If you don’t teach your children to be alone, they’ll only always know how to be lonely.”

Since speaking with Sherry Turkle and taking in some of her strategies, I’ve been more deliberate (not yet perfect) at drawing lines with email between work and home. I’ve taken an idea she offers — of selectively declaring “sacred spaces” like the dinner table as off limits for technology. And while my children grumble, they too are embracing this. I’ve started regularly printing out emails that are substantive or special in some way and putting them in boxes like I did once upon a time far more naturally with letters or thoughts written in the first place on paper.

And as I talk about this in my circles of family and friends, I’m hearing about all kinds of strategies others are devising to make the technologies we love more humanly compatible and even nourishing. With this show, we’re hoping to spark a lively and useful exchange of such ideas among listeners. Tell us and other listeners if you’ve created strategies to lead an examined digital life — to shape it to honor what matters. Please join in!

Evolutionary biologists believe that human lighting preferences are the result of our trichromatic vision—rare in nonprimates—which makes us particularly suited to daylight and the perception of primary colors. There’s an anthropological component as well: For 400,000 years, humankind has been banishing darkness with fire. And Edison’s bulb is, at its core, a burning filament that casts the glow of a flame. Abandoning incandescent bulbs means abandoning fire as our primary light source for the first time in human history.

cubicle lightsThese lines from Dan Koeppel’s article in Wired magazine, "The Future of Light Is the LED," nails it. His explanation captures people’s — frankly, my — aversion to the horrible, cold light of compact fluorescent bulbs and the ritual cringe many of us experience each morning when our colleagues turn on the overhead tubes of life-sucking energy hovering above our cubevilles with a perky, “Let’s get some light in here!”

Photo by Daniel Parks/Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

The internet is nothing but software fabric that connects the interactions of human beings. Every piece of software is going to transformed by this primacy of people and this shift.

Vic Gundotra, Google’s senior vice president and Google+ project manager in Wired

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor


Wishing for Less Time

by Leah Elliott, guest contributor

Autumn is here(photo: Leandro Pérez/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

I never used to go anywhere without my cell phone. It was not only a means of communication, but my sole timepiece, and not knowing the time made me crazy.

That all changed one afternoon when my oldest son was two years old. After four years of living in the Southwest and its two seasons of hot and hotter, we moved to the upper Midwest. I couldn’t wait to experience the change in seasons, so one crisp October day I packed up my son and a picnic lunch and headed to a nearby state park to see some fall colors.

When we arrived, I unfastened the buckles of his car seat, retrieved our lunch, and instinctively reached for my cell phone. Then I paused.

It was one of those rare days when I had no other obligations or deadlines. My husband was on a business trip, so there was no one waiting for us to come home. I asked myself, 'What if I just don’t worry about time today?'

I returned my cell phone to its resting place among the loose coins in front of the gear shift and turned my full attention to enjoying the afternoon with my son.

After our picnic lunch, we wandered over to a pile of fallen leaves. My son splashed through them up to his thighs, tossed them in the air, and giggled as I buried him over and over. “Wow!” he gushed appreciatively as gusts of wind rearranged the pile and made little leaf cyclones.

While he was enthralled, I felt myself growing bored and impatient. I wanted to pull out my “five more minutes” ultimatum and move on to something I deemed more interesting; but, without my phone, I would have had no way of knowing when five minutes had passed. Then I reminded myself, 'There is nothing you have to do today except be with your little boy.'

I gave myself over to the freedom of not worrying about what would come next. Right now, nothing mattered except sharing in my son’s joy of as he raced through those leaves.

We went for a walk and came to a bridge spanning a river. I let him run back and forth across it as many times as he wanted, a carefree “Whee!” accompanying each crossing. We wandered farther up the path. He peered at the insects hopping through the tall grass, and I was right there with him. The ability to share in his wonder and curiosity came naturally once I quit clinging to a preconceived schedule.

When he tired of walking, we headed back to the car. I welcomed the delay when some flowers caught his attention. We stooped and examined them to his satisfaction before moving on.

I can’t tell you whether that afternoon lasted one hour or four, but I do know that we both had the time of our lives. Eckhart Tolle points out that humans existed for millennia without clocks. Our modern obsession with time perplexes me when I remember this. I wish for less attachment to time. I wish for more afternoons when time doesn’t matter. I wish for my son’s ability to be fully in the present moment.

I have to live by the clock day-to-day to keep appointments, interact with the adults in my life, and meet my children’s all-important bedtime deadline each night. Whenever I can, though, I put all my clocks out of sight and out of mind. I let my children take the lead and slip into their world, where nothing matters but the present moment and time is reckoned in hugs and laughs instead of hours and minutes.

Leah ElliottLeah Elliott lives with her two sons in Fargo, North Dakota, where she is working on a master’s degree in vocal performance. She blogs about carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism at The Whole of All the Earth.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Get published by forwarding your original work on our submissions page.


Plugged In to the Outer Cape

by Jill Schneiderman, guest contributor

WellfleetSand dunes at Wellfleet. (photo: Joshua Bousel/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

“If you don’t teach your children to be alone, they’ll only always know how to be lonely.”
Sherry Turkle, from “Alive Enough? Reflections on Our Technology”

The founder of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self made this remark in the context of describing the awe she feels when she walks among the magnificent dunes near Provincetown, Massachusetts. I know well those sand dunes and the extensive tidal mudflats that mark the tip of the Cape.

Dr. Turkle thinks of these places as sacred spaces, and I agree. I take my earth science students there to witness the work of wind, water, and sand. And, for a week or two each summer, I go with my children so we can experience the flow of the tides. These are indeed remarkable places in the landscape ripe with possibilities for self-realization.

I take my geology students to the dunes and mudflats of the Outer Cape so that they can experience the vast time scales and spaces of earth system processes.

Settling on the CoastA satellite view of Cape Cod. (photo courtesy of NASA)

The Cape itself, as some readers may know, owes its existence to the great ice sheets that extended as far south as Long Island during the late Pleistocene more than 10,000 years ago. The mud of the tidal flats and the sand of the dunes are the glacial debris, reworked and sorted by the wind and water long after the ice sheet retreated north.

Other reminders of the presence of the massive ice cover in the region are cliffs above the dune fields — the edge of the glacial moraine (a pile of boulders pushed along as the ice pushed south) — and freshwater ponds of neighboring Truro and Wellfleet (“kettle holes” formed when stadium-sized chunks of ice broke off the glacier, became engulfed by glacial sediment, and then melted). All of these features stretch for miles and remind me and all my geologically time-traveling companions that 18,000 years ago — a seemingly long time — this portion of the Earth was covered by a one mile-thick sheet of ice.

Eyes of the EarthWellfleet Bay Audubon Sanctuary. (photo: Susan Cole Kelly/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

Encountering this landscape cultivates in me, and I hope in my students, what Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.” For me, this is a soothing feeling of awe and connection. Walking in the dunes or across these mudflats puts me in touch with deep time — for the particles that compose them may themselves be millions of years old, silt and sand moved there merely thousands of years before.

Although we walk among them today, the particles have been through many cycles of existence. Formerly they were part of a mountainous land mass; subsequently they were eroded, transported, and deposited at least once. Each grain has an individual history. Collectively they tell a story that encompasses swaths of time that hold all of humanity. I find this reality comforting.

Provincetown MA 068The sands of Provincetown’s dunes. (photo: Leonarda DaSilva/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

Dr. Turkle worries helpfully about the inner effects of digital objects. Though she acknowledges the benefits of digital connection, Dr. Turkle laments what people lose as they take to the dunes and mudflats with their earphones in and handheld electronic devices on and open. To her mind, people lose the ability to feel at peace in their own company. I agree, but also would like to suggest that by unplugging from the electronic world in such sacred spaces we increase our capacity to encounter entities larger than ourselves — vast time scales, and past and ongoing earth processes. Thus we enhance our ability to connect with the earth system of which we are a powerful part, and this experience lessens loneliness.

Jill S. Schneiderman is Professor of Earth Science at Vassar College. She’s also the editor of and contributor to For the Rock Record: Geologists on Intelligent Design and The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet. She blogs at Shambhala SunSpace and Earth Dharma.

We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.