Piers Fawkes: In Praise Of TED
Why the five day conference still draws crowds and gives people access to ideas and voices they might not otherwise hear.
Two weeks ago, I attended my first TED conference. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from an event that has produced content that has been watched and appreciated across the globe. Sure, I had seen and shared that content on PSFK.com but I was intrigued to experience the event in person to find out why it sells out year after year. I was also interested to see if TED was still a special experience or if there was some truth in the back lash that recently occurred — much of it detailed extensively in this New York Times Magazine article, published at the beginning of March. But instead of a meeting of pontification and self-importance, I found a truly rare event that was unlike anything I have ever been to — or anything I will see in the future.
At the heart of this, is a true and authentic desire by a team lead by Chris Anderson to share ideas and insights that they think the many political, business and creative leaders in the room can leverage when they return to work. The wild and weird mix of speakers from science, technology, philosophy, business and music provided a stream of lateral inspiration that you wouldn’t normally consume – in fact, I feel that I might have actively avoided listening to half the speakers on stage if I had looked closely at the agenda. Yet sitting there with the rest of the audience, I felt somewhat energized as I was bombarded with facts about black holes in space, function maps of the brain, transgendered supermodels, and jokes about whether a God would question the meaning of His existence.
But what makes TED different is that it does what no one else can. At its best, it can access some of the most important people creating change in the world to spread their ideas on a stage before an audience made up of similar people (and then the rest of us). No one else can get Edward Snowden to do an interview via robotic avatar — or the NSA to respond. No one else can get Charlie Rose to interview Larry Page. No one can get Bill and Melinda Gates to talk about their philanthropic efforts. On top of that, no one else can put those speakers in a room with an audience that includes business titans Jeff Bezos, Tony Hsieh, Reed Hastings, and Martha Stewart, a couple of Hollywood celebrities and political figures like Al Gore. TED lasts for almost five days and many of the attendees I noticed in the coffee lines seemed to stay for the whole thing.
Were the talks important? Did the talks sound like intellectual fluff? As an event curator, I’m not to sure I would have chosen all of the speakers they did, but like everyone else, I took what I wanted, and my subconscious took what it needed. All this being said, it was a treat and pleasure to attend. I watched a level of thinking that I wouldn’t have experienced anywhere else and I connected with a crowd that still can’t be found everywhere. I think TED remains a vital event in the annual calendar and I hope it evolves and grows still further to spread good ideas everywhere.