Just back from TED Long Beach. The theme for this year’s weeklong conference was “The Rediscovery of Wonder.” After 12 sessions and over 60 presentations here’s my take on the five you must see, a sort of cheat sheet if you will!
The opening session was titled Monumental—it was rich with several outstanding presentations, two in particular stood out for me:
David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, did a fabulous job. I was envious of his confidence, humor, intelligence and facility with public speaking. His key insights weren’t necessarily groundbreaking for designers, but he was able to articulate them far better than we can…that old problem! His key message; emotions are at the center of our thinking and far from being separate from reason, are in fact the foundation of reason. This is a must see.
Wadah Khanfar of Al Jazeera gave an upbeat and stirring assessment of the uprisings across the Middle East, urging us in the West not to be scared of the potentail consequences. “You are witnessing a birth of new era,” Khanfar said. “The future we were dreaming for has…arrived.” His was one of the most inspiring presentations of the week.
The power of community, and in particular the online community was a continual theme throughout the program.
This was examplified by Eric Whitacre’s presentation of his virtual choir, which started out as a simple experiment in social media, but has now gone onto something much larger. Ironically his virtual choir version 1.0–clearly a low budget visualization-was far more authentic and moving than version 2.0 which felt too ‘produced’ for my liking.
Community was showcased most emphatically though in the unbelievable digital work of Aaron Koblin, who showed two crowdsourcing projects-a memorial music video to Johnny Cash and a new music video for Arcade Fire. You must see this presentation, I was massively jealous!
Morgan Spurlock was entertaining in an uncomfortable way as he turned his cynical focus to the branding world (a great target!). His key message however, that companies need to embrace greater transparency, was not at all groundbreaking.
The Radical Collaboration session was super disappointing, and was only enlivened by the spirit and boldness of the artist JR, this year’s TED prize winner. Last year’s winner, Jamie Oliver, gave a short update on what he’s achieved during the past 12 months. His whole presentation felt disingenuous to me–an act–the angry, cheeky little cockney. Aren’t there more worthy recipients of the $100,000 prize money?
Eythor Bender of Berkeley Bionics by contrast was a standout in the Invention and Consequence session. Berkley Bionics augment humans with wearable, artificially intelligent bionic devices called exoskeletons. These were demonstrated on stage with two applications– first, a military application, enabling a soldier to augment his own strength to carry a 200lb pack (which is now licensed to LockHeed martin), followed by the unfortunately named eLEGS–an exoskeleton that enabled Amanda Boxtel to walk onto the stage after 18 years of paralysis. Impressive stuff.
The last session ‘Only if. If Only’ was the tear jerker of the week with emotionally powerful presentations coming from educator John Hunter and cancer victim Roger Ebert, although neither made it into my admittedly very short list.
Overall I felt this was an inconsistent TED, with fewer highs and more lows.
I left feeling that perhaps TED is trying a little too hard at the moment. Its expanding its influence enormously (TEDx, TED Active, TEDED, TED Books, TED Open Translation Project, TED Prize….etc) and whilst I truly believe these expansions are done with the best of intentions, I worry that the power of ‘ideas worth spreading’ may be diluted in the ‘sprawl’.