To TED or not to TED



In case you’re not familiar, TED (which stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is an organization that puts on yearly conferences offering a whole range of speakers who deliver their thoughts on politics, science, arts, religion and pretty much anything else that relates to being human. Their slogan is Ideas Worth Spreading. As it turns out, The annual TED Conference was held in Vancouver last spring and its close proximity has prompted some debate. First, we probably all agree that no one had an issue with the speakers at TED. It was an absolutely phenomenal lineup. No, the problem seems to be about TED itself. Some call it elitist. Yes, I suppose there is an element of elitism – one must apply to attend and also pay a hefty fee. But remember, this is a conference. I myself have been to conferences within my own profession which cost hundreds of dollars for only a few days. Granted, I do not have to pay out of my own pocket, but the fact is conferences are expensive. Some specialized scientific conferences cost in the thousands. TED is probably paying all costs plus an honorarium for some pretty heavy-weight speakers. How else could they do that other than through fees? Should we ask that they find sponsors instead? Companies like Nike, Coke, and MacDonald’s who seem to squash free thinking rather than promote it? Or perhaps open up a massive stadium to bring in the 50,000 ticket-payers needed to cover those costs? I don’t think mega-shows are conducive to the intimate sharing and discussion of ideas. And that’s what TED is all about – ideas.

I really don’t understand why some people feel so excluded. There were at least two dozen venues throughout the city streaming live broadcasts of each talk for free. And within days of conference end, most talks were put online for anyone with an internet connection to enjoy and ponder. Without the TED conference, this opportunity would simply not exist. Period. And that would be a pity.

So on to my next point. Some say that TED promotes only feel-good talks. But how is that bad? Do people not want to be inspired? Acts for the common good must start with passion and inspiration, and I’m pretty sure more than one torch has been lit due to a TED talk. I myself have been totally inspired by some TED talks over the years. And if not inspired, at least I’ve been introduced to a new perspective on the world of which I was not previously aware. And at no point do the TED organizers claim that their mandate is to end all the misery in the world, as some believe they should do. They only want to give us ‘ideas worth spreading’. And in that, they excel.

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