*The European: You call â€śBrain Pickingsâ€ť a â€śhuman-powered discovery engine for interestingnessâ€ť. Whatâ€™s your definition of â€śinterestingnessâ€ť?*
Popova: Anything that moves me and impresses upon me some fragment of truth that leaves me different, even slightly altered and more enriched â€“ intellectually, creatively, and spiritually.
*The European: Do you think that that concept has changed in the digital age?*
Popova: Not at all! What _has_ changed is that weâ€™ve conflated the amusing (cat slideshows! silly quizzes!) with the interesting, the temporary diversion with the deeper dimension of personal growth. The most â€śinterestingâ€ť ideas are invariably timeless.
*The European: How much do interests reveal about a person?*
Popova: Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: â€śThe most damning revelation you can make about yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not.â€ť No doubt itâ€™s an intentionally cheeky sentiment, but thereâ€™s a grain â€“ perhaps a boulder â€“ of truth. We are a collage of our interests, our influences, our inspirations, all the fragmentary impressions weâ€™ve collected by being alive and awake to the world. Who we â€śareâ€ť is simply a finely curated catalog of those.
*The European: Do you have any idea who your readers are?*
Popova: Based on the letters I receive, my readers cut across nearly every imaginable occupation, age group, and life path, so itâ€™s difficult and misleading to attempt lumping them into an archetype or two. Just yesterday, I heard from a high school student in the Netherlands and a retired educator in Nebraska within minutes of one another. I think the only common denominator is that, like me, they are people interested in what it means to live â€“ what it means to lead a good life, a fulfilling life, a purposeful life â€“ which is, in turn, the only common denominator between all the ideas I read and write about.
*The European: How do you select the things you present on â€śBrain Pickingsâ€ť?*
Popova: With that same lens: Is this something thatâ€™s both interesting and important, shedding light on some corner of human existence? Is it something that helps me answer even a tiny portion of that grand question of how to live?
â€śI still write for an audience of oneâ€ť
*The European: Do you think that it is easier to establish consensus in the digital age because like-minded people can easily share what they like, thereby establishing a consensus about certain things among that group?*
Popova: Iâ€™m not sure â€śconsensusâ€ť is the right term, but people are certainly better able to gravitate toward like-minded others. The downside of that, of course, is that it creates a kind of echo chamber â€“ or whatâ€™s been called a â€śfilter bubbleâ€ť â€“ where we become even more firmly rooted in our existing beliefs through peer affirmation. It takes a constant practice â€“ an increasingly urgent discipline â€“ to seek out ideas that challenge us and stretch us. It’s a form of intellectual hygiene that has always been necessary, but never more so than in the digital era, where it is so easy and so frictionless to surrender to the filter bubble.
*The European: There is such a huge availability of information on the Internet. Does this make it easier or more difficult to gather information and thereby knowledge?*
Popova: I donâ€™t think knowledge results from â€śgatheringâ€ť information. If anything, the correlation is probably negative. The Internet does make it easier to gather â€“ aggregate, as the jargon goes â€“ information, but not necessarily to make sense of it. An overabundance of raw information devoid of context and interpretation can actually be detrimental to knowledge. Knowledge springs from the act â€“ the _art_ â€“ of interpreting, digesting, and integrating new information with our existing understanding of the world. Thatâ€™s why the human element is so vital in the age of algorithms, because weâ€™re very far from having artificial intelligence advanced enough â€“ morally and creatively, as these are necessary components of sense-making â€“ to do this interperation and integration for us.
*The European: Do you think that, because of this huge availability of information, people have more interests today?*
Popova: I canâ€™t speak for others, but Iâ€™ve found in myself a tendency to retreat deeper and deeper into my existing interests as a form of self-defense against the abundance of demands for my time and attention. Again, it takes a certain discipline _not_ to do that and to continually expand oneâ€™s ideological comfort zone, as it does not to scatter oneself too chaotically across a multitude of diversion.
*The European: “Anne-Marie Slaughter()”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne-Marie_Slaughter described â€śBrain Pickingsâ€ť as â€ślike walking into the Museum of Modern Art and having somebody give you a customized, guided tour.â€ť Is that an accurate analogy?*
Popova: Itâ€™s a very generous one. I certainly try to do this for myself â€“ Brain Pickings remains a record of my own becoming, so I still write for an audience of one â€“ in a more metaphorical way, of course, taking â€śartâ€ť to mean the art of living, encompassing everything from philosophy to science to design.
â€śThe label is irrelevantâ€ť
*The European: You do draw a lot of inspiration from books. What are books better at than the Internet?*
Popova: Literature is the original Internet â€“ every footnote, every citation, every allusion is essentially a hyperlink to another text, to another mind. The difference â€“ the advantage, for me at least â€“ is that in books, those â€ślinksâ€ť donâ€™t beckon as immediate demands for our attention, redirecting us elsewhere before weâ€™ve finished the present thought, but serve instead as gentle invitations to extend this thought once weâ€™ve finished absorbing and digesting it. Thereâ€™s something to be said for the value of slow, continuous, deliberate thinking, which remains the forte of books and the Achilles heel of the vast majority of the web.
*The European: Do you think that digital curation is a greater threat to traditional print papers than regular online journalism?*
Popova. Iâ€™m not exactly sure what â€śdigital curationâ€ť even means anymore â€“ certainly not something I identify with at this point. But I do believe the editorial and the curatorial live on a spectrum. Every nonfiction writer is essentially a curator of ideas â€“ whether this means the selection of academic and clinical studies to be cited in a Malcolm Gladwell-style pop psychology book or the snippets of articles highlighted and contextualized in a dayâ€™s worth of Andrew Sullivanâ€™s blog. At their best, journalists â€“ writers, editors, â€ścuratorsâ€ť, or whatever we choose to label them â€“ help people figure out what matters in the world and why. The label under which they do it is irrelevant.
*The European: What was your favorite â€śBrain Pickingâ€ť so far?*
Popova: In a way, what has propelled me to do this for nearly eight years now is the longing for perpetual growth, for self-expansion and self-transcendence, which requires a hope that each new day brings a better â€śfavoriteâ€ť. That said, when â€śBrain Pickingsâ€ť turned seven in the fall of 2013, I wrote about my “seven most important life-learnings()”:http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/10/23/7-lessons-from-7-years/ from those years, and those remain at the heart of what I write about and how I live, so that particular article is something I keep coming back to whenever I need to re-center.