Well, this week was the 2013 TED Conference. I've been attending TED either in-person or virtually since 2005. This year we streamed it (as TEDLive members). And even though we're attending "virtually", we do set aside the week to attend all the sessions. Overall, this year was better than the last couple. In the past, I've found a higher ratio of either poorly prepared presenters (C'mon, you're presenting at TED! This is not the time for your famous "off the cuff" lecture style) or presenters who sell from the stage (not always overt, but there have been a few who are all "well in my book, I say". Blerg.)
To me, there was only one truly awful one (not mentioned below). And one where I was prepared to LOVE the content but the presenter took us down a wendy windy wandering academic garden path that made no sense and a lot of their points got lost along the way. And there were a couple of "audience talks" that were pretty cringe-worthy.
However, there were truly some outstanding presentations - for various reasons. Most of them good.
These are my TED 2013 presentation highlights. In all cases I've linked to the official TED Blog post about them where if they haven't posted the video yet, hopefully they will. The blog posts also have all the links to the presenters' bios, websites, etc.:
Most informative on a new-to-me topic
Saki Mafundikwa founded the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts, ZIVA, a Bauhaus-style school focused on African heritage. Mafundikwa's talk was about the story of writing in Africa - likely where the written form began rather than in Mesopotamia. The true message of his talk was that African designers have a lot of inspiration in their own heritage and history - and they shouldn't look to the outside for inspiration, but from within their own culture. Mafundikwa showed a few slides both of historical African design as well as work from the students at ZIVA. It was incredible - I've ordered his book about Afrikan Alphabets to learn more.
Most inspired me to take local action
Since we bought a place with a yard, we've been gardening. Now, we don't have enough acreage to grow ALL our own food, but I find that our small plots are good practice from a food security point of view, to prepare for the day when the oil runs out and if we don't grow our own we don't eat. Hopefully that day is still a few years away, but I think it is important to continue honing my gardening skills. So does Ron Finley. He's a guerilla gardener in South Central LA who wants everyone to garden - even more than Michelle Obama does. He wants his community to own their health and own their food supply. Finley is a fantastic storyteller. He preaches and adds a little humour: "Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city. Plus, you get strawberries." He holds "dig ins" to teach people in his community how to garden. He is inspiring and has gotten me excited about another growing season and the real potential for creating change in a local community.
Update March 6: Ron's Talk has been posted!
Made my Canadian heart glow the warmest
Canadians had some pretty good representation at TED this year, folks from Vancouver, in particular (does that have anything to do with the fact that TED is coming to Vancouver for 2 years?). My favourite Canadian moment was when Shane Koyczan took the stage. You likely remember Shane from his phenomenal spoken-word performance at the Vancouver 2010 Games. Shane has continued his wonderful lyrical work since 2010 and closed the Thursday night session of TED with his wonderful storytelling … a powerful intro and then the recitation of his latest work "To This Day". They haven't posted the video of Shane at TED yet, but you can hear his words set to the combined animations of 80 illustrators.
WARNING: There is swearing in the following. And I know it sounds like I'm a crusty old man screaming "You kids get off my lawn." Whatever. Skip to the next one if you don't want to read that :)
Every year there is at least one TED presentation that makes me furious - not because it was poorly presented but because to me the topic is so incredibly self-evident that I can't believe TED wasted 18 minutes on it. This year, Meg Jay earned my wrath. Her talk was about how we need to make sure that we tell people in their 20's that they need to start behaving like they are adults. That "30 is not the new 20" and they can't blow off their 20's, fuck around at pointless jobs, and be in bad relationships because they are just fucking around waiting for their real life to start at 30.
And she wrote a book about it.
Are you shitting me? I already find millennials infuriating because HR people spend so much time telling us that they have special needs in the workplace and need to be treated differently. They need challenges and autonomy. Now the ones who aren't demanding special treatment in the workplace still need to be coddled?
Bullshit. Millennials, 20-somethings, whatever need a swift kick in the pants. I graduated from university when I was 21 (because I applied myself and finished a term early) smack dab in the middle of a recession. There were no jobs. I didn't move home with my parents and work part time in a Payless Shoe Store (Starbucks didn't exist at the time). I marched down to Kelly Services and became a Kelly Girl until I found the right position that would advance my career - it took me a while, but I did it. And nobody had to tell me not to waste time - I figured it out. Because I wanted to eat and pay rent. Also in my twenties, I was in two relationships, but they weren't goofing around relationships - I thought they were the real thing. Turns out, they weren't. But if I hadn't had them, I couldn't be in the awesome relationship I have now.
I can't believe that people in their twenties need to be told the things Dr. Jay says we need to make sure we tell them. These people are TWENTY not TWELVE. Sure .. let's support them, mentor them - but to tell them "hey, don't waste your twenties" … well no fucking kidding. Ugh.
Lisa Bu is a staffer at TED - apparently they occasionally give their own TED talks within the office - and she was invited to share her talk with the larger TED audience. Bu talked about how her love of reading helped her get past her unrealised dream of becoming an opera singer. What I love, though (aside from Bu's charm and genuineness) is how she reads comparatively. She'll read the same book in two different languages at the same time - to try to understand the nuances of each. Or two banned books. Or other interesting pairings. It's a great idea for people trying to inject an additional level of meaning into their reading habit.
Best talk given by a geek girl
What if you were reading the newspaper - the dead-tree kind of newspaper - and you wanted to share an article from it. So you touched the "Like" button that was at the top of the article and that posted it to your Facebook page. Yes, the "Like" button was on the paper edition of the newspaper and pressing it triggers a digital event. That's what charming uber geek Kate Stone is working on - interactive paper. She's designed menus where you can order by touching them and has created a paper (paper!) DJ mixing board that connects to an iPad app where she can mix music. This is some seriously cool Harry Potteresque stuff!!
Thing I'm not really sure is a great idea
Ever since I read the first Thursday Next novel from Jaspar Fforde, I have wanted a pet dodo. This year at TED, Stewart Brand (of Whole Earth Catalog fame) gave a talk on "de-extinction" - the possibility (reality!) of bringing back extinct species. Now, as much as I would LOVE a pet dodo, I don't know that this is a great idea. Not because of some Jurassic Parkesque fear, but I worry that we, as the dominant species on the planet, will trivialise the impact we have on the environment. WE HAVE WIPED OUT SPECIES BECAUSE OF OUR GREED. Now, if we can bring them back, will we ever feel the immorality of what we have done in the first place? There's going to be a whole TEDxDeExtinction event on March 15 - and they are live-streaming it for free. I'm planning on watching.
My TED Book list
Most of the folks who spoke at TED also wrote a book, or two. I've added a TED 2013 shelf over on my Goodreads with the ones I'm planning on reading. The TED blog actually had a more complete list a month or so ago - books to read to get you ready for TED.
One of the reasons that I prefer livestreaming TED rather than attending (aside from the overall cost savings) is that I can share TED with Rosemary as well as a few close friends. Rosemary's done her roundup of this year's TED - a different take than mine - she highlights some great talks as well!
And that's it! A few of the talks from this year have been posted and more will continue to go up. So if you haven't subscribed to TED's weekly newsletter, make sure you do so! One of my goals this year is to watch a new TED talk once a week - we'll see if that happens now that I've had a full four days of TED.