In 1997, six years after the World Wide Web went live, Andrew Weinreich created what is widely considered the first social networking site, SixDegrees. That same year, Jorn Barger coined the term “weblog,” which would later be broken down to “blog,” the base nomenclature for the coming era of digitally-mediated self-expression. At the time, Jason Silva was 15 and coming of age as a member of the first generation to grow up on social media. He shared in contemporary rites of passage with millennials around the globe: a MySpace account in the early 2000s, Facebook friends and Twitter followers by 2009. And, in 2011, the University of Florida philosophy and film school grad was one of the first to popularize the move from the text-based diary entries of blogs into the audio-visual sphere of vlogging.
Silva found his way to the video camera at a young age. Growing up in the turbulent political environment of 1980s Venezuela, he also experienced existential crisis early on in his life. “We didn’t know if we would be kidnapped if we went outside. I had a lot of anxiety from a young age," he says.
The camera quickly became a sounding board for Silva to process the harsh realities he was confronted with. To quell his anxiety and work out his feelings about the world, he explored his deep interest in philosophy through the lens.
“The camera focuses me; the minute the camera is on, it means be here now, focus, talk, explore, probe the contours of consciousness and language," he explains. "Videotaping my ideation is something I’ve always done, like the writer who records himself when he’s in the zone."
As part of the digital generation, he quickly learned he was not alone in his interest in existentialism, the human condition and the freedom of creativity. His videos quickly gained an international following and captured the attention of the National Geographic Channel, who tapped him to host one of their most successful programs, the Emmy-nominated Brain Games. In 2013, in partnership with Discovery’s TestTube Network, Silva began releasing philosophical dialogues on his popular Shots of Awe YouTube channel. His videos have struck a chord with people of all ages around the world who share in his desire to explore the deepest and most complex questions of life.
Now, Silva is preparing to embark on a four-city Canadian speaking tour. In October, he'll visit Vancouver, Kelowna, Toronto and Montreal (full details on dates, venues and tickets can be found here). Canadian Geographic caught up with Silva to discuss the tour and some of the ideas he's most excited to share with Canadian audiences.
On the concept of 'flow,' one of the most popular topics discussed on Shots of Awe
Flow can best be described as a state of consciousness when you feel your best and perform your best. You could be surfing, you could be snowboarding, you could be rapping, you could be painting; if you feel your best and you're performing at your highest level, that’s flow.
Within the brain, flow is characterized by four elements: selflessness, timelessness, effortlessness, and richness. Your sense of self vanishes. You’re not self conscious, you’re not in your head anymore. Your sense of time disappears. You’re in the present, in the forever box. Everything is flowing from one thing to the next — you see it with the basketball player in the zone, the jazz musician in the pocket, and so on. Finally, there is a sense of richness, high information processing, whether you know exactly what your next move is, or whether the lyrics are just flowing out of you if you're a writer or performer. People who reliably create flow in their lives, who put themselves into contexts that trigger flow, report the highest levels of happiness and satisfaction with their lives. This is beyond self-help; we’re talking about states north of happy.
On scientists and philosophers who inspire his work
Jamie Wheal and Steven Kotler of The Flow Genome Project are doing brilliant work harnessing advances in psychology, technology, neurobiology, and pharmacology to better understand flow. We’ve never had such resources to look beneath the hood of our brains. We can do FMRI scans when people are in states of flow. We’ve never had another time like this in history when we can take a knobs-and-levers approach to harnessing human happiness. It’s like open-sourcing nirvana.
I also love Erik Davis, who wrote the book TechGnosis: Myth, Magic, and Mysticism in the Age of Information, and Ray Kurzweil, who wrote The Singularity is Near.
On what Canadians can expect from the Shots of Awe tour
The tour is about all things Shots of Awe; about my theories, about existentialism and the human condition, about our relationship with technology, our relationship with creativity, our relationship with our own minds. It’s really for fans of my work — everything and anything related to Shots of Awe.