Is TED in a content crisis?

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).

English: Chris Anderson and Richard Wurman get...

Image via Wikipedia

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.

Regina Saphier TED Long Beach 2012 Day 4

English: Structure of the FOXP2 protein. Based...

Friday, March 2, 2012

8:30 – 10:15

Session 11: The Classroom

Hosted by Kelly Stoetzel and Rives

Bill loves sun dials, and he made sure one goes to Mars. Ainissa says kids have an inner scientist and we should concentrate on that instead of training them for tests. Adult John illustrated his middle class confused human teenager memoir story with dance and music. Al recommended that Americans replace the baseball lingo with pizza symbolism when they talk about sexuality to make it personal, desire based, non competitive, non sexist, non heterosexist and equally pleasurable to both sexes. Kate is a writer, she draws time lines when building new worlds and she asked kids to imagine the worst and best possible worlds. Angie does not want to be remembered as perfect. She asked us to record our real history and leave it behind for future generations, because if you do not do it, someone else might. Awele demonstrated participatory citizenship with a courageous black woman’s story who would not give up her bus seat and who changed history this way. Chris showed us a cute animation about his key question: How is it possible that we have not yet seen any sign of life beyond Earth? He asked us to stay curious and also announced that TED-ED will be open to teachers superb short lectures and will animate the best ones TED style, similar to TheRSA videos. Aaron showed us evidence that yes, evolution is real, like the FOXP2 gene, responsible for learning in birds, mice and humans. You can test natural selection, in a short period of time. Raef introduced his students who entertained us. 🙂

11:00 – 12:45

Session 12: The Moment

Hosted by Chris Anderson

Henrik presented his robotic self. Sebastian tested the idea of interactive TED talks. Cesar showed us his one second a day video narrative of his life. Leymah spoke about her wish for African girls to be able to go to school and not having to suffer. Jacob Soboroff asked: Why are Americans voting on Thursday since 1845? There is NO good reason, and there is now the weekend voter bill, that will hopefully change the day and increase voter turnout. A video followed, a Symphony of Science summary of the latest TED event. Brené spoke about her and our vulnerability.

English: Photo of Brene Brown

English: Photo of Brene Brown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She asked the audience: Do you believe that your vulnerability is weakness? Most raised their hands. Next she asked: Do you perceive the vulnerability of TED speakers as courage? Most again raised their hands. See? Vulnerability is NO weakness. Vulnerability is the most accurate measure of courage. Shame: I am a mistake (makes people depressed). Guilt: I made a mistake and then I admit it (this is adaptive behavior).

Regina Saphier TED Long Beach 2012 Day 3

Thursday, March 1, 2012

11:00 – 12:45

Session 8: The Courtroom
Hosted by Chris Anderson

Lets see… Jim… I am sorry, but selling lots and lots of toxic deodorants with ideals… that is pathetic. And I am saying this with a marketing degree (diploma work in marketing ethics). Jim did not convince me. Sherry spoke about the avoidance of intimacy… people hide behind technology. Many young people have very little social skills, feel lonely, and need real attention. Tali warned us that we are way too optimistic. She called it the optimism bias and it could be responsible for the ongoing economic crisis. Depressed people are more realistic. But optimism leads to success. People love anticipation. Taylor Wilson, a really young nuclear physicist told us about his home made fusion reactor and also pointed out that for a scientist the glass is always full, because of water and air. 🙂

Bryan received a really long and deserved standing ovation for his wonderful talk on integrity, race, and fighting for justice. In his opinion richness is not the opposite of poverty, it is rather justice. He believes that each person is more than their worst action. When a judge decided to put his African American teenage client on trial as an adult, he made a motion: lets try him as a 75 years old privileged white male corporate executive.  He advocated for proximity between the privileged TEDsters and people in poverty.

2:15 – 4:00

Session 9: The Design Studio
Guest curated by Chee Pearlman and David Rockwell

A highly entertaining session. Chip told the story of his book cover design process. He has the persona of a stand up comedian really and was dressed like an elegant and intelligent clown. Liz spoke about the redesign of a museum in Washington. Not my kind of design. My favorite speaker was David, a person who is well known as the one who helps people rediscover their creative power at Stanford. He gives back people’s creative confidence. He is such a compassionate person.  Thomas spoke about the curated museum experience at the MET. It would have been nice if he showed one of the tapestry exhibits on the TED stage. When I moved to New York in 1999, I spent my first two weeks at the MET. True story. Also true: when I was 9 years old, my parents lost me in the MET, in the book store in 1981 (luckily they did find me, after they realized in the lobby that I was missing… my father lost me actually, he has ADD I think… not with antiques, only with kids). The ABT did not particularly impress me. John Hodgman made fun of design. John Hockenberry told us about his father’s wisdom: design by intent. Intent makes all the difference in your actions and design.

5:00 – 6:45

Session 10: The Campfire
Hosted by June Cohen

Jared made flames dance and made us see sound. Joshua decided to write about memory training and ended up winning the competition he wanted to write about. We remember best when we memorize topic by topic, or in fact place by place. Make your life memorable, pay attention, be mindful, and remember to remember. Philippe told his fascinating story with passion. He made us imagine the moments when he crossed the air between the WTC buildings. Marco Tempest invited us to his digital campfire.

Jon told the TED audience that there are probably 30-40 psychopaths among them. It would be normally only 1%, but it is 4% among CEOs. Corporate psychopathology is responsible for a lot of suffering in the world today. Abigail was singing in Chinese while playing the banjo. She was obviously born to perform.


Regina Saphier TED Long Beach 2012 Day 2

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

8:30 – 10:15

Session 4: The Lab
Hosted by Chris Anderson

This session had at least two talks with the wow factor. After Scooter spoke to the TED audience and pointed out that TED is like the academy awards for nerds, Regina, a nerd herself says that people  should be nice to nerds because they are the ones who are able to change the world. She asked us: What if you could not fail? Life gets interesting by the way when we fail because it means we surpassed ourselves. She is designing amazing flying objects at DARPA and one of the most interesting ones is the nano hummingbird… looks amazingly real as it floats over the TED stage  and Chris jokingly remarks at the end: Look what a cute hummingbird just flew into my headquarter… he also kept trying to make her say that her designs will be used by the military in unknown ways and what those ways might be… But anyway: What would you attempt to do if you knew that you can’t fail…? Jack demonstrated the highly practical digital anatomy device where the human body is represented by a 1:1 3D model of the human body, excellent for training and also for surgery consultation. This amazing table is already on sale, cheaper than a human body. Marco visually narrated Tesla’s short form bio and we learned that Tesla’s mind was supported by synesthesia and he built models in his head. After hundreds of inventions he had one failed idea, that was actually possible, but he kind of overestimated the possibilities and got no funding. Finally he ended up a recluse in his Waldorf Astoria suit. I mean, how silly, after so much success, how could people leave him so alone? Donald explained his world changing idea: The Liquid Metal Battery. This invention might just save the planet, according to Chris. We were informed that while watching, there are 165 TEDx events happening simultaneously. Vijay showed his team’s agile flying robots. I knew about his work, I have seen it before, but some of the videos were new. I especially liked the small robots flying in formation. At the end of the session Chris remembered Steve Jobs.

11:00 – 12:45

Session 5: The Earth
Hosted by Chris Anderson

Karen took us high up in the mountains to watch bears and showed footage of a newly discovered bat that has a tongue longer than its own body to reach the nectar in a flower. Sharon showed photos of beautiful bird nests. Wade asked us to protect the sacred head waters of the world. James reinforced our knowledge that global warming is real and we need to put extra price on carbon. Boone spoke unconvincingly about natural gas as the bridge energy for the US. I mean he lost 150 million as a solar energy entrepreneur, and now he has investments in natural gas… you can see where he is coming from. The Civilians performed the end of humanity.

2:15 – 4:00

Session 6: The Crowd
Hosted by June Cohen

After some music, the start up whisperer, father of LinkedIn, Reid says that individuals need to use their online company of people, their network as entrepreneurs. You somewhat have to understand technology, have a network identity, need network intelligence and network capabilities.  If you are a company collecting user data, do not do anything with it that you would not publish in The New York Times. David Hornik had a 3 minute talk. He spoke about his invisible disability, dyslexia preventing him from remembering names. He says that even if he can not remember our names, he still loves us. 🙂 Lior presents the first crowd sourced TED talk, and brings a real ox on stage. Jen gives the most practical talk of this session, introducing OccupytheSEC. She brings application developers into City Hall. It is a peace corps for geeks. We need a crowd of voices, but more importantly we need a crowd of hands actually doing things. Frank gives an epic talk about asking people to share their secrets with him on a postcard. June shares her secret: her skirt zipper broke but safety pins saved the day. 🙂 And finally Reggie speaks nonsense in the most intelligent manner possible and produces fun with his persona.

5:00 – 6:45

Session 7: The City
Hosted by Chris Anderson

JR’s TED wish turned his idea into the biggest collaborative art project in the world. Edward spoke too fast, so Chris made him summarize his talk at the end: cities are important for us to be able to connect to create collaboratively. Eduardo demonstrated how efficiently his operations center works in Rio and his colleague came online to tell him about the weather, the traffic and river levels. Suja, a stunning person and excellent storyteller spoke about her urban planning project in Africa, where she is working on a new city in Free State in South Africa.  The session is closed with lively Gospel. 🙂 (I will never forget the kindness of the church people in Harlem after we visited their community following 9/11. It was an unforgettable and wonderful experience. Thank you!)

Regina Saphier TED Long Beach 2012 Day 1

Long Beach, CA Time is in the Pacific Time Zone in the United States of America (USA).
US Pacific Standard Time (PST) is 8 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT-8).
For Budapest, Hungary local time, add 9 hours to each time in the program.

Here we are again, this is major TED event #6 that I am live blogging online. I must say, every time the first stream of a major TED conference starts, I feel something special… it is the feeling of gratitude that I have the opportunity to be part of this amazing event live. This year I decided to change my habit of speaker by speaker notes and I am going to start writing session summaries, because you can find an amazing speaker by speaker key idea stream on twitter in a micro blog form directly happening during the major TED events by TEDNews.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

11:00 – 12:45

Session 1: The Observatory
Hosted by Chris Anderson

Brian explained how humanity went from the idea of the universe to the idea of a multiverse, how we first assumed that the expansion was slowing, and now we know that the expansion is speeding up… that the Big Bang might have produced several universes instead of only one. And he pointed out that a very long time from now scientists would look into a much darker and more static space and would draw very different conclusions, so we might just as well be doing the same, as some of the information is already gone. And from space time we go to space archeology: Sarah talked about the fact that she was able to show from space that 99% of Egypt’s archaeological sites remain to be uncovered. Paul told us to be afraid and act before the big crisis hits, because the Earth is full, while Peter gave us an optimistic talk about what is possible today with technology, that solar is now more available and so water would also be more available, and that the future depends on the DIY innovators, NOT governments. Susan is an introvert, she wrote a book about the importance of introverts in our societies and she introduced us to the term: endovert (people between introverts and extroverts…)

2:15 – 4:00

Session 2: The Parlor
Hosted by June Cohen

This session is a bit harder to describe, because we witnessed some stunning performances… dance with light by Quixotic… emotional and visual storytelling by Andrew… hypnotic and even dancing sculptures by Reuben… funny poems by Billy

… and some music history by Michael.

Budapest by Billy Collins

5:00 – 6:45

Session 3: The Dinner Party
Hosted by Chris Anderson

I am sorry to say, but the “dinner table” experiment is turning this session into something rather artificial… Rebecca and Steven are not actors, so the fluidity of their over rehearsed and rigid talk is missing and we are unable to reach flow… I am unable to pay attention to their content. You do not talk like this at a dinner table… talking away from the table, managing a memorized dialog with your spouse… I hope not… such smart people looking so silly… Sir Ken Robinson and Therese (Lady) Robinson would be much better at such TED stage performance.

After Rebecca and Steven finish the rigid part of the session, the “real” dinner party starts (no food for the body, only for the mind)… a bit better to watch, but there is not enough space and time for the discussions to unfold… The experience remains awkward.

More speakers appear while guests sit at the table: Julie spoke about creativity in all things we do… Atul spoke about the importance of such simple things as checklists in health care; in one of his projects he introduced a simple checklist in several hospitals around the world and while complications went down by 35%, death rates decreased by 47%! That is amazing! He says we need pit crews of medical professionals. The best care is often the least expensive, while some medical treatments are understandably very costly. When Atul sits down at the dinner table, Sir Ken Robinson tells him about his funny experience at a pathology conference: He was offered a free autopsy. You know, people give you what they can… Jonathan talks about the tendency that most people feel spiritual. He says that the self melting away is a key to our human evolution. He say that you can also feel sacred alone, but it is more meaningful in a group. I disagree. Leaders often need to first experience the melting self alone to be able to become spiritual leaders. It helps to be part of effectively cooperative groups if you want to reach higher social goals. We are “homo duplex” as Emil Durkheim called humans.