Technology, entertainment, design
Yes, I’ve fallen down the TED rabbit hole.
Some of you may be up to speed on TED.com, but for those of you who haven’t yet drunk the Kool-Aid, TED is a website that features an ever-expanding offering of free talks, or videos of said talks. Most of them seem to clock in between 10 and 20 minutes, so they’re pretty easy morsels to digest during the day, if you’d rather chomp on a bit of brain candy than surf a news or gossip site, bullshit around the water cooler or step outside for a smoke.
TED is an acronym for “technology, entertainment, design.” My first exposure to it was via a lecture titled “Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight” by a brain scientist who had a stroke, or left-brain hemorrhage, and she knew enough about the function of the human brain to follow exactly was going on inside her head. She knew that the left brain, which governs the logical part of thinking, was shutting down, leaving her right brain to plunge her into a far more mystical state of being. It was a pretty popular viral video a few years ago, and my attention got drawn to it via my interest in Buddhist insight meditation, or Vipassana, which I’ve been practicing daily for a few years now.
And then last summer, my friend Roderick Bedingfield turned me on to a couple of coworking office spaces that were alternating in hosting TED videos on Tuesday mornings. I never made it to Capsity, but I did start hitting The Urban Hive, and eventually, TED Tuesday shifted there every week.
Basically, what happens is we sit around and start drinking coffee, because 8 a.m. generally is a time when caffeine intake can be quite helpful. Then we watch a TED video that host Brandon Weber has picked out, then we talk about it or whatever ideas arise, then we watch another TED video and then talk some more. Sometimes we get through three videos, but two seems to be typical.
It seems to be a pretty excellent format for opening up discussion on a variety of heady topics. This morning, we watched two: first, a short talk from a recent TED India conference by Asher Hasan, which showed photos of ordinary people in Pakistan who are not part of what people in the West would call terrorist insurgents; it probably made more sense in the context of this TED being held in India, a nation in conflict with Pakistan, which was carved out of the former British colony of India (along with what’s now Bangladesh) to give Muslims and other non-Hindus a chance at a stable future in the post-colonial Indian subcontinent. The seven of us there didn’t have a whole lot to say about the short piece, which clocked in at a short-for-TED 4:29.
The second video we watched, by aviator Bertrand Piccard, left a stronger impression on us. Piccard, who already circled the globe in a hot-air balloon, now seeks to accomplish the same feat in a solar-powered plane. But his talk was more universal, beginning with the metaphor of navigating to the proper altitude where the wind currents will be best for moving where we want to go, and achieving that objective by dropping items of ballast — a Buddhist idea, one person at the Urban Hive said, after describing the metaphors as “cheesy.” Yes, some metaphors are cheesy, others agreed, but cliches become cliches because there’s at least a grain of truth resonating through them.
For me, these TED Tuesday events, along with Cereal Creative, a Cap’n Crunch-fueled Friday morning bull session, also at The Urban Hive, have provided a sense of community with an intellectual context, at a time when I’ve become a bit untethered to normal office culture, me being unemployed and all that. It’s good to be around smart, creative and forward-looking people, if only to remind me that I’m smart, creative and forward-looking, too, and I seem to thrive best in that milieu; I’m probably not Tea Party or Glenn Beck’s 912 Society material.
If I miss a TED Tuesday, I feel like I’ve missed out on something special, because the discussions are typically scintillating. But the beauty of it is that you can watch the TED talks with an Internet connection, and there is a huge library of them online that you can explore whenever you like. And they’re free. I won’t list a bunch of my favorites, because part of the fun of exploring is finding your own. But I will give you a link to one TED talk that really fired my imagination: Danish architect Bjarke Ingels’ 3 warp-speed architecture tales, which blew my mind as well as any, ahem, stable alkaloid could, and this one’s non-toxic.
So why am I telling you this? Because we live in an age where commercial media is foisting so much junk culture on us, at a time when it is absolutely crucial that we rise to the challenge of building a future that will sustain life, human and otherwise. If we sit around watching the idiocies of the Kardashian Sisters Go Shopping and then talk about their over-magnified vanities around the water cooler, we’re wasting time better spent on finding solutions to the many problems before us.
And solving those problems will require that we shut off our old and long-established defaults long enough to hear the whispering voices of the answers we seek. I’m guessing these answers will arise from causes and conditions we have established; the intention of a group of people meeting with the accord of being open to finding and manifesting these solutions, in similar fashion to the way jazz musicians collaborate to elevate a shared musical idea into something transcendent and far more wonderful than something they each could have accomplished on their own, really gets me excited and inspired.
Which doesn’t stop me from enjoying Jersey Shore, by the way. I love my junk culture, too, but I’d also like to see humanity survive long enough to give us the next generation of Kardashians. —Jackson Griffith