When I wrote my last blog post discussing Mr. Wurman’s latest plans for a new kind of conference I did actually think in the back of my mind that he might just read it. So, it was not surprising that he in fact sent me a note via facebook very soon after I published my previous blog note. I was rather surprised by my intuition (even after so many intuitive events, you just never get used to knowing what might happen in your extended reality).
Meanwhile, I also thanked “my” government for having the stupid idea of possibly registering Hungarian bloggers. I never used a pseudonym on any of my blogs, I like to stand up for my opinion, but the idea that I would have to register my blog (that I started on a Hungarian server years ago) made me angry and I quickly moved my blog to wordpress in 2011 (I also changed my topic, instead of criticizing Hungary’s so called elite and writing critical essays, I started to focus on TED, mainly the major TED conferences). While all “freebloggers” in Hungary look like they do not exist in the world, when you have a WordPress blog, your global visibility changes (plus there is Facebook, if you have no blog but have an opinion). So, this is why I think that our government kind of scored an own goal, because the migration of Hungarian intellectuals from local servers to global ones made them really visible and that lead to even stronger international criticism. I like that. I think moving my blog abroad (to the US), changing the topic (to TED) and the language (to English) was the best idea (earlier I wrote in Hungarian and in English and about many different topics). I now have a global readership in English (earlier I had an international readership, mostly Hungarians knowing me due to my civic advocacy and media appearances).
But back to the Wurman Project. I must tell you this: Richard Saul Wurman congratulated me and wrote that my blog is accurate. 🙂 After RSW expressed that he wishes to talk about my blog we got in touch via skype/phone. When the chat was over, I wrote this on my facebook wall: “I had a long phone chat with Richard Saul Wurman, father of TED, and I am happy. 🙂 Will be writing about the conversation on myTEDblog as soon as my blog note is completed. Do you know the feeling when a brilliant person e-mails you that he likes your blog (about the very phenomenon that his mind created) and wants to update you regarding some nuances? I have that feeling. :-)”
I am not the kind of person who idolizes people, but I am very enthusiastic about people who work with good ideas and are pleasantly crazy (I know it looks better from a distance, having that kind of crazy in my genes). He passed my crazy test, so to say. While we talk, I realize that I have an easy situation because he is in many ways like my talented father, so I feel like I have read the “manual”, but Richard is much more cooperative. I have no problem imagining his circumstances and the area he is living in, because I have been to Rhode Island (RI) and Newport, several times…
First, when I was 9, my father took my mother and me to visit his sister, who lived right next door to the Nayatt Point Lighthouse, in Barrington, Rhode Island. I had my first fresh oyster in Newport at age 9 (I did not know at that point that the second huge portion of memorable oysters is waiting for me in Paris, when the twenty something version of me gets invited by a Japanese friend… whom I met a few months earlier in Villefranche-sur-Mer… delicious lunch with a marvelous host in a wonderful restaurant… fond memories). 1981 was a major year in my life … my first time in the US (and my first time outside of Hungary)… two months on the East Coast, plus Canada… The second time in RI: when I studied at Columbia. The third time in RI: when I visited my childhood friend. I lived in New York for a while as a student, therefore I understand the Wurman couple’s decision that they moved to Rhode Island, and I also see why they would still feel isolated. There is a reason why their home turned into a “time and space gate” in the middle of boring and posh Newport. Just look at the garden… as if space aliens have landed several times on those circles that Richard appears to leave everywhere… like the red carpet on the TED stage… even if the carpet is not his design idea (it could be), it somehow reminds me of The Creator.
Richard has no problem with criticism, he goes ahead and criticizes himself, if you don’t. But if you do, he says that you are right, and explains how right you are. He welcomes opinion and he has his own too. He likes to say that he is rich enough, while he failed at many many things, and yes he is elitist, but it is all about the quality of ideas, and yes he is arrogant as many people keep saying, he says, but he is not taking himself too seriously. He apologizes for not being fluent as a skype user at 77. I keep expressing that humanity will probably forgive a talented man at 77 for not being a daily skype user. He is a completely approachable human by the way… so, I immediately start to run my diagnostic mental scan, and I see my inner list: AD(H)D, mild Asperger’s with high verbal aptitude, and some learning differences. But don’t take my diagnosis too seriously, because I think those terms will very soon be outdated when fMRIs and similar devices will become commonplace. Paper and pencil tests and psychologists magically giving you eclectic cocktails of DSM numbers will be a joke to look back on.
We speak about the TED story, that Chris Anderson banned Richard from the TED conferences after RSW announced that “TED is the greatest twentieth century conference”. Richard speaks highly of Chris’s achievements, but says that he feels it was really unnecessary and disrespectful to lock him out. Finally, we agree that as he put it, this is “a cock-fight”, and he is really tired of such things at his age.
In this video, promises many things in 2002, as he takes over TED, the for profit creation of Richard Saul Wurman. Chris says, he is going to be “the custodian” of the conference. He refers to the Sapling Foundation, because the TED conference was turned into a non profit project under Chris’s leadership. Chris also mentions the global power the TEDsters in the room have… but little did Chris know about the possible global power of TED as an online phenomenon in the future we today live in. Now, that Chris banned Richard for his remark that TED is the greatest conference of the twentieth century, I have to say, I would not have banned Richard for his remarks, because he is probably talking about his own era. Truth is, for us, who witness the latest TED, even as the TED team is struggling with their own humanness and content, style and structure issues, for us who view these talks live online, it is a twenty first century conference in the making. But I noticed one major thing… when you look at the videos before the takeover, there is this sense of intimacy that I no longer feel in the new era… I think it would be a good idea to try to bring back that kind of intimate atmosphere in at least some of the TED conference sessions.
Richard told me, that he is “no do-gooder”… but man, you have no idea how much good you did with your “hummingbird mind” when you created the TED conference and when you decided to let go of it at the right time. In my humble opinion, the father of TED and the custodian of TED should: get a mediator, work out your differences, and revisit the topic of TED as a global human connector, educator and entertainer online, combined with the latest technologies, tools and possibilities. If Richard is able to admit that he was wrong about the TEDx events and in fact those events turned out to be wonderful, who knows perhaps Chris is able to admit that he was wrong about uninviting Richard from TED (and stop telling people not to fund his new conference).
But, if that is not an option, lets see what RSW is planning behind the scenes of The WWW Conference. TED was about short talks, WWW is about indulging in conversation (about one word titles that start with W) as long as Richard is able to pay attention. Nothing egocentric about that… Right? But the thing is, small egos never created anything singlehandedly in human history. Richard is not about pleasing the audience, he celebrates spontaneity and he feels blessed doing whatever he wants to do “since his mother gave him permission to cross the street by himself at the age of 11”. The sessions will be streamed to several locations (just like TEDMED), translated into 10-12 major languages and there will be B&W subtitles, plus an app with extra content. There is nothing yet that the TED conference could not do for you, because you know that Chris could interview people at any time… but here is a major difference: Flipboard and the synergy of information about the WWW guests and topics. There won’t be any press for the first conference but what about people who might live blog like me? I learn that there is no paid WWW conference team, that Richard is alone (as he was alone initially with TED and look what happened). So, if you wish to join Richard (who says that ignorance is his expertise, because he is aware of his ignorance) and help him build the new kind of synergistic mind meeting, just say so! The WWW Conference is still in the making!
Where the circles live, close to the Ocean:
After I congratulated upon his weight loss, I learn that his health is good. He also told me that his wife is not Hungarian, but rather she used to be married to a Hungarian man, and that Gloria and Richard have been to Hungary in 1990, right before our first free election. At the end of our conversation Richard offers me his books via mail and promises to give me a free web stream of The WWW Conference as (and if) it happens. I am able to see that he is promising facts and fiction, but lets hope the fiction becomes reality too.
I don’t know about you, but I like Richard Saul Wurman.
For me, for a dyslexic, interested in online education, and not being a native English speaker, it is a nice challenge to live blog each event in English. In fact, after so many events, it is not even a challenge anymore…
My name is Regina Saphier, I am a senior TED blogger and TED talk translator living in Hungary (my native country). A few things about me: I lived in several countries, I graduated from Teachers College of Columbia University and I am dyslexic (as I like to say and shock people: I am unable to read, write and calculate properly, but still graduated from Columbia… imagine what I could do if I could read, write and calculate… if in doubt after my self deprecating line: I write my own blogs and I have no editor… I also write my own translations… and no, I do not have an IT manager, nor do I have a social media editor… I do all this alone as an online one woman show). When there is a major TED event, I am there for every minute online, because I prefer 2×4 TED days per year filled with 2×70 live talks instead of one post production talk every second day (besides not all TED conference talks get published).
I was surprised by my new feeling after the days of TED Long Beach 2012 passed. I mean I really enjoy 4 days of interesting ideas, but I noticed that there was no aha moment for me… no feeling of: this is the only place where I could hear, see, feel this. There was even the feeling that some sessions were awkward, like the dinner party… interesting and less interesting people sitting around a dinner ready table on stage, with nothing to eat. The first presentation was painful to watch in this session, and by a really smart person, Steven Pinker and his partner. It was rigid, rehearsed, unnatural, and very disappointing. If it ever makes it onto the TED site (only the best TED talks make it there), it is because it will be edited beyond recognition, with animations to hide the weakness of the talk (I love RSA animation, but in this case, animation can only be used to save the ideas in the talk). Also, I did not feel the necessity of the real bull on stage in a happy go lucky “interactive” presentation and was hoping for a real antique tapestry on the TED stage when the MET and exhibitions were narrated… no demo there. There were other problems, but in general the event was still enjoyable and interesting. However, after having seen 7 major TED events online (so, several hundred live TED talks, beyond the several hundred recorded TED videos), this was the first time that I had the feeling, the event was not outstanding.
I have the feeling that Chris and his TED team are getting a bit nervous about the competition on a market where they make millions of dollars with the TED conferences, and they are trying to reinvent the content, yet unsuccessfully. By the way, neither the free online videos, nor the live stream was Chris’s idea, in fact he was initially opposed to giving their content away for free (the stream is only free for diligent TED translators). I would like to thank the unknown person who suggested the free stream, and I think it was smart of Chris to support the idea in the end.
(Did you know that after Chris persuaded a group of investors to purchase the TED brand from Wurman for 14 million dollars, later, after the dot com collapse, he negotiated an exit deal with the group and his Sapling Foundation paid only 6 million dollars for the TED brand, in a second hand kind of deal. I am sure, he is not so worried about money… or is he? Ten years ago he has seen his first empire collapsing… that must have been traumatizing.)
I am actually so glad not having to mingle with the tech snobs in those conferences (no matter what you hear from others, I am an introvert and mingling is hard work for me, even if public speaking is something I enjoyed in the past), and it is really comfortable to view the live talks from my living room (I know, there is stream buffering, and I know that people in the theater see it a bit sooner, but that is ok). Now, I should not say all this online, not even as a senior TED talk translator and senior TED conference blogger, because even million dollar donors and even the inventor of the TED idea and brand, Mr. Wurman got uninvited from the TED conference (what a shame, but not unusual for Chris’s TED era), so you can easily get punished at TED when you speak your mind. I know, believe me, I got the silent treatment after I expressed my valid opinion regarding the management of volunteers… I got invited to and uninvited from TED Global in 2010 within a week and it was really not my fault… I am sure non of you would ask your conference guest’s sponsor to send a check to a complete stranger, another TED conference guest (another TED volunteer) living in the US, so that she could wire the money (my sponsor’s money and her own) together to TED in New York… dilettantism of a TED employee to ask something like that and think that she is being helpful. In turn the TED employee acted all hurt when I responded with a clear no and poinTED out that her conduct is unprofessional (I should know, because I have my NGO founder and director experience)… This mistake was never fixed by the TED team… First I was really angry, but later got over it thinking, I really don’t need snobs and ignorance in one package, even if it were offered at a volunteer discount and covered with TED’s world famous intellectual lobster sauce… an idea worth spreading… By the way, that particular telecommuting and flextime dilettante was paid 76 680 USD in 2010, and she is the fifth highest paid independent contractor of the Sapling Foundation. Picture that! Chris and his employees find it hard to deal with valid opinion… and he really only pretends to be egalitarian, extremely nice, or flexible. He is really elitist, selective, and (passive) aggressive… but if you did not spend a lot of time watching him, you would not immediately notice that the humble, kind facade hides a really insecure, driven, and snobbish human, who drinks a lot at TED parties. He is really intelligent in his own way, but he will never in his life be as original, as laid back, and as playful as Wurman is. Chris is the type who is primarily and largely using other people’s ideas to become successful (this is an important talent, indeed, you know, because humans use each others ideas, some more, some less, but we all do), but unfortunately uninvites them from their own invention. This is a sad thing, because Wurman might have been able to help reinvent TED again.
Wurman is the kind of man who says, f’ck you Chris, if you can not deal with my opinion and even publicly reject me as a person, I will create new conferences for my own entertainment and share it with anyone who pays for global simulcast events or for the related smart phone app. And he will! However, most people won’t receive Wurman’s conference content, he will create something super elitist again. Who will pay? The elite, the middle class, and the rest of the world won’t get anything. Chris is about structure within structure, available to anyone (the TED brand contains the restricted format talks that are shared), Wurman is about structure filled with elite improvisation (here is the brand, lets see what happens within, and you can also find out if you have the money).
Meanwhile, the world is getting more and more interested in new ideas, inspiration, role models, but even interactive conferences won’t solve the problems out there. People need to be more involved and global platforms for real life solutions are needed to utilize inspiration and interconnectedness. Chris thinks he wants to change the world (and earn a lot of money). Wurman wants to have intellectual fun (and earn a lot of money).
While the brilliant boys are out fighting, I am thinking about the talks, the top speakers, the ideas, the connection of ideas, the technology that made this possible, and the people who made this technology possible, the diligent and enthusiastic volunteers, the sponsors, the donors, and it is clear, what Richard and Chris are doing for people is wonderful. Let’s hope their egos don’t get in the way. It would be useful if the speakers would also make available their key research articles via TED, for those who wish to go further (like me) but are typically not at US universities right now (many are, but most aren’t) where they are able to read any article for free. Let’s reinvent the TED slogan: inspiring and applicable ideas in depth worth spreading.
Also, we need global action community initiatives where people would be able to act upon their inspiration in cooperation with others. Basic written TED conversations on the TED site are limited and pointless in the long run. Talk talk talk… write, write, write… that alone is not going to take us much further. Actions will. I think supporting The City 2.0 is a good start, but why is it impossible to register on it for a week? How is it possible that a pro NGO with so many technology professionals in its network is unable to introduce a social media integrated partner website that actually works by the time it is exposed to the world? Having written dozens of suggestions to the TED team over the years… and not getting any results… well, for an enthusiastic and communicative volunteer there comes a point when she starts looking for more open minded organizations to support… I feel like I have done enough volunteering (especially for rigid and unresponsive multi million dollar foundations), no matter how useful my translations are for my own nation… and lets face it, my nation is not doing much for me (nothing really). The speakers are rewarded with extra PR, so I should not worry about them. I am looking forward to Wurman’s new conferences… But wait… at TED I am given free live conference stream for my several dozen TED translations… but who will translate the 50 minute Wurman conference discussions? TED has over 8000 enthusiastic open translation project volunteers… And that has to do with the fact that Wurman invented TED and Anderson made TED accessible. This is how most people will remember them 100 years from now.