Wee Frizz Pickings

‘My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind.’

[William James]


There is an On Being podcast that I returned to recently which interviews the writer Maria Popova, founder of Brain Pickings.  The podcast title describes her as a Cartographer of Meaning in a Digital Age.

When I first heard it I listened to it several nights in a row while I was clearing up the kitchen.  I didn’t want to miss anything she said, and most of it I needed to think about.  Krista Tippet describes Brain Pickings as wisdom of the old-fashioned sort, presented in new-fashioned digital ways, and Maria Popova herself has called it a “human-powered discovery engine for interestingness.”  Brain Pickings is fascinating because in one way it is like the internet at large – it accumulates and combines ideas – but in contrast to the randomness, perhaps, of a social media newsfeed, Brain Pickings serves to illuminate our lives and stretch our minds.  Rather than the haphazard links we often make clicking our way through Facebook, Brain Pickings makes links “to glean some insight, directly or indirectly, into that grand question of how to live, and how to live well.” It makes links across the disciplines and across the history of human thought.  While the internet is structured in reverse chronology, conditioning us to believe that the most recent is the most important, Brain Pickings is a steward of old-fashioned wisdom and by-gone thinkers; enduring ideas as well as current ones.

I keep returning to Krista Tippet and Maria Popova’s conversation on this podcast because it is giving me a language, and guidance, to think about how I navigate life with technology in a meaningful way.

Their conversation is important to me because it reminds me that I get to choose how to be on the internet.  It gives me pause for thought about how I meet the information that comes my way.

Maria Popova says that her hopes for this medium are that people will come to rebel against the things that don’t work for them – spiritually, intellectually and creatively.  She talks about people becoming more willing to limit what they engage with and to make decisions about how something makes them feel in the end.

I want to rebel.  I want to limit.  I want to choose.

I want to counter my own developing tendency to skim and fast-forward, to be fed bite-size pieces and move on. Maria Popova suggests that as a culture we are bored with thinking, we want to instantly KNOW.  She says “We have been infected with a kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge, but not to do the work of claiming it…The only way to gain knowledge is contemplation and the road to that is time, there’s nothing else.  There is no short-cut for the conquest of meaning.”

When I listen to On Being podcasts I feel nourished.  I also feel in awe of how articulate and intelligent and wise Krista Tippet and her guests are.  It’s easy to focus on all the ways I am not, for example, Maria Popova, and how I could never create something like Brain Pickings.  True that.  BUT, when my internet habits are healthy I can see that I do my own version of what she’s talking about.  I listen to podcasts numerous times for example, I contemplate.

One of the gifts the internet has “given” me is Brené Brown.  Several years ago I saw her first TED talk recommended on a blog and I watched it, several times.  When I have a bit of time on the internet (usually in the kitchen, when my girls are asleep) I choose Brené.  I choose her TED talks, I choose her on Oprah, I choose any speeches and interviews I can find with her on YouTube.

This year I have chosen Morning as my word for the year, but I have also chosen Brené.  Daring Greatly (the book that followed the TED talks) has influenced me greatly over the past few years and I decided I wanted to start at the beginning, with her first book, and spend TIME with all 4 of her books this year.  I want to do the work.

Brené Brown is a research professor who studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.  She writes, and talks, about things that are hard to face in yourself, but that ring true.  I love her work because she has done years of research that convinced her of things she didn’t like at first, things she didn’t want to be true – like the power of vulnerability, for example.  Her research has often forced her to ‘do the work’ in her own life, and it makes me want to do it too.

(For me, the things her ‘data’ have convinced her of connect with my faith and the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God.  In one of those YouTube interviews she said “I am a proponent of a gritty, dangerous, wild-eyed kind of love.  I don’t want to live in a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell world, I want to live in a show up and be loved world.  The people who inform me spiritually and call on me to be courageous are people who say that kind of wild, gritty love that I think is important is not easy, is not popular… but you do it anyway.”  I say Amen to that.  But that’s all a side-note.)

So this year I am thanking the Internet for Brené, then I am shutting my laptop and doing the work with paperbacks and journals and coloured pens.  I’m going to underline and dog-ear and read bits aloud to my people.

As I started ‘I Thought it Was Just Me’ last month I initially flew on past the part where she suggested answering some questions on paper.  Who does that?  But then I recognised in myself the impatience Maria Popova identifies, the need to know without thinking, so I went back, and was glad I did.

When I am aimless on the internet my mind gets shaped by everything I randomly notice, with every click I agree to attend to too many things, tangents opening up faster than my ability to truly think.  I am trying to choose a wiser way to navigate this space.

What about you? Any tips for engaging with technology in a meaningful way?  And who or what are you most grateful to the Internet for introducing you to?!

Brené Brown TED Talks

Brené Brown Books


I Thought it Was Just Me (But it Isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy and Power

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Rising Strong

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