TED Talks: Offering us Ideas worth spreading

By , on April 8, 2014


 amanda_palmer_ted_talksAmanda Palmer re-enacts her days as a mime, as she expounds on the Art of Asking at the TED Talks 2013 conference.  (Photo : http://amandapalmer.net/blog/20130307/)

 

Reality TV is all the rage on the boob tube these days; serving up everything from the brilliant, to the mundane, to the inane, to the downright insane.  I must admit to having my guilty pleasures, which shall remain unnamed lest I offend the gods of taste and intellect.  On the other hand, there are some shows that I cannot watch without discomfort and disgust, yet I keep watching anyway, in grotesque fascination; much as a graphic book on medical conditions makes us cringe, yet we cannot seem to put the bloody (literally) thing down.  The human mind is strange like that.  Animal Hoarders (and shows of extreme hoarding, in general) fall into the latter category. I writhe in my seat, at the sight of the conditions in which the people – and the animals – often live.   

On a recent episode, a girl named Angie (gasp!) was in possession of well-over 50 cats.  This was her outlet; her way of overcoming traumatic situations that had occurred in her life.  Her heart had grown cold and bitter towards people and life in general, and collecting cats was her way of coping.   She was convinced she was doing something good, incidentally, as no one – in her opinion – could care for the cats as she did.

I thought to bolt out of my chair and race to the living room to check if I still had TWO cats.  Paranoia was getting the better of me, and for an instant, I feared I might have been transported into some future dimension, by some Whovian device-or-other, to a world where I, too, had grown bitter and cared for over 50 cats.

For a moment there, I nearly got sucked into the black hole that is reality TV.

Then there is Talk Show TV, a variant of the Reality TV format.  What 20th century person has not been influenced by one Talk Show or other? Has not quoted Oprah?  Has not tried a new supplement or diet because “Dr. Oz said so?”  Has not dealt with matters of the heart with Dr. Phil’s advice as basis?  Even those living under a rock have in some shape, form, or fashion been impacted by talk shows and their respective gurus.

Talk shows on TV are generally my white noise; playing in the background as I cook, do chores, get dressed, whatnot.  But there are some shows that cause me to actually sit and pay attention.  TED Talks (live conferences filmed and viewed online) is one of them.

I admit, I jumped onto the TED Talks bandwagon a tad after most other people, having been introduced to the show by a friend who claims to “BE internet.”  And because he “IS internet,” he prides himself in many things, one of which is catching shows before they become all the rage.

The first TED Talk he showed me had then 12-year-old boy genius Jacob Bartnett challenging Enstein’s Theory of Relativity.  I was befuddled.  I was amazed.  I was awe-struck.  And I was hooked.

 

Ideas worth spreading

Good-old Wikipedia, although not always the best source of factual information, accurately tells us in this case that TED Talks stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design.  The format involves a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, and bears the slogan “ideas worth spreading”.  Set up as a conference between speaker and guest, in front of a live audience, the show is broadcast via live streaming.  Episodes are available for free viewing online.

Founded in 1984 as a one-time annual event, the conference is now held on a regular basis across different cities in the West Coast of North America, and is expanding to other cities such as Vancouver in Canada.

TED’s mission statement reads, in part: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”

Guest speakers expound on their ideas in the most creative, stimulating and captivating way they can, within a maximum of 18 minutes. Past presenters include Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Malcolm Gladwell, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates, Bono, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and several winners of the Nobel Prize. The conference is curated by British former computer journalist and magazine publisher Chris Anderson.

 

Why it works

I don’t have any hard-and-fast facts as to why TED Talks works. Though I cannot back this up with scientific research or polls, I can hazard a few educated guesses.  I think it works because people are desperate for real meaning and answers, in a world seemingly devoid of either.  The more industry and technology take over, the more dehumanized we become as a society, and the tendency is to get lost in this dehumanized, mechanical existence.  The forum provides some sort of connection with the things that really matter, perhaps.  To boot, it is our way of living vicariously through the achievements of others. And then, of course,  there is the voyeuristic foundation that is at the core of most reality-type formats.

Moreover, TED Talks is just downright interesting and intelligent; making it a rare gem amongst the fool’s gold of all-too often banal and mindless shows these days.

 

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