We need to talk about TED

26

In our culture, talking about the future is sometimes a polite way of saying things about the present that would otherwise be rude or risky.

But have you ever wondered why so little of the future promised in TED talks actually happens? So much potential and enthusiasm, and so little actual change. Are the ideas wrong? Or is the idea about what ideas can do all by themselves wrong?

I write about entanglements of technology and culture, how technologies enable the making of certain worlds, and at the same time how culture structures how those technologies will evolve, this way or that. It's where philosophy and design intersect.
 
So the conceptualization of possibilities is something that I take very seriously. That's why I, and many people, think it's way past time to take a step back and ask some serious questions about the intellectual viability of things like TED.

So my TED talk is not about my work or my new book – the usual spiel – but about TED itself, what it is and why it doesn't work.

Written By: Benjamin Bratton
continue to source article at theguardian.com

26 COMMENTS

  1. The fact that this is a transcript of a TED talk, compels me to vomit out my brain and flush it down the toilet. I agree that there are a number of ridiculous TED talks, but trying to attack innovation and technology as fundamental flaws to human “progress” is as precarious as his grammar.

  2. This talk is exactly whats wrong with TED talks. Too many and too many embiggening some singular problem.

    So my TED talk is not about my work or my new book – the usual spiel – but about TED itself, what it is and why it doesn’t work.

    To assume TED is an agent for direct change is fatuous. It is 15 minutes of occasionally inspiring chat in an ocean of chat to which it itself is increasingly adding and diluting. I see no evidence that TED “doesn’t work” though its intellectual quality has tumbled badly. Contrive an exaggerated singular problem then propose a singular solution and look doubly impressive.

    Better, or rather, worse still, produce a singular annecdata point (“I would invest if it were more like Gladwell”) to validate your thesis. Of course, this is no indication of how investment works or indeed how TED may trigger investment (which anyway I contend is not its “job”). Some investors (especially those looking for fast returns) may well have low requirements of real merit but look instead for high plausibility.

    Knowing a little of how the investment community works in novel technology, TED would never be the place of first or any resort to find investment opportunities.

    TED’s job for me is to cast some problem-finding and problem-solving bread on the water for the general public. A new idea cannot be pushed onto the “market” if there isn’t some pull already in place.

    Using Alain de Botton in the pic does illustrate both the quality issues and a failing in many presenters, that they too often imagine what comprises the general public must think what I think and feel as I feel. The scope of problems susceptible to single solutions, if they exist at all, is so often less extensive than we think.

  3. Of course Ted talks don’t change the world. 99.999 percent of the world don’t know they exist. that doesn’t make them not thought provoking, good or bad, for those who listen.

    Is embiggening really a word. I guess it is now.

    • In reply to #6 by jjbircham:

      Of course Ted talks don’t change the world. 99.999 percent of the world don’t know they exist. that doesn’t make them not thought provoking, good or bad, for those who listen.

      Is embiggening really a word. I guess it is now.

      Its perfectly cromulent.

    • In reply to #8 by jjbircham:

      if embiggening is good enough for Lisa Simpson it’s good enough for me.
      Hell , Shakespear could invent words and he wasn’t even half as smart as Lisa.

      Embiggen is a fine word and entirely appropriate for Jebediah Springfield, or even Hans Sprungfeldt, however I think the proper word when discussing exciting new science is ‘engorge’.

  4. I enjoy TED and frequently find various talks inspirational that lead me to investigate a topic further. TED is really intended for the 98% of the population that is not scientifically literate but enjoys some level of being “intellectual” and informed even if it is psuedo-intellectual. “middlebrow megachurch infotainment” is an excellent description. Admittedly, I am not part of the one or two percent of the population that is highly educated and fully knowledgeable. We may not have time to read fact filled journals that require time and study that builds up to a competent level of understanding. We take in TED, PBS shows, podcasts, websites, etc. I think it is important for me to recognize that I am mediocre in this area and not conflate my limited knowledge for true, thorough understanding. I question whether others do this or not.

    Although I enjoy TED, I also agree with the author of this article. Unfortunately, the problems he addresses are symptoms of society as a whole. The “middlebrow megachurch infotainment” mindset is likened to those who want quick ways to solve problems and make decisions that may involve conflating personal preferences of likeability, attractiveness, dynamic personality, popularity, etc. over objective competence. People are hired and promoted under the guise of being qualified while attractiveness and charm are the actual leading factors. The most qualified is not guaranteed to rise to the top in a marketplace that values “perception” in an increasingly visible media filled world. Even many of our animals are now picked for “cuteness” instead of the reason/task for which they were bred. At the core of the dumbing down of society is the opportunity for the mediocre to rise to high levels of visibility while the most competent take a back seat or are required to carve their own niche as some type of sole proprietor or steam shovel – a difficult task requiring communication skills and the same qualities that enabled the mediocre to excel.

    I think part of the solution is for people to accept that the most competent person may not have the best interpersonal skills and “entertainment” abilities. Unfortunately, I think there is a challenge dealing with a Dunning Kruger effect since those who are in leadership might not have the skills they think they possess????

  5. I thought I was the only one to think that the quality of TED talks has diminished. I used to enjoy a sizable number of these as they were the perfect length to watch/ listen to on public transport. Nowadays I pressed to find one talk that catches my interest.

  6. TED is about communication of ideas. It is useful only as far as those ideas will reach AND be acted upon. I think the world of the TED talks that I choose to watch. And, that is key—- the choice to watch or not. If you select shitty topics, of course you’ll select shitty talks. But, the talks I have seen are great and very enjoyable.

    The ideas are there, in order to get them implemented, we have to start a serious conversation about electing people who can think and get things done. Instead, Sarah Palin et al get trotted out. Ultimately, it is up to everyone to elect folks as representatives who actually represent the BEST of humanity. Instead, we elect trash.

  7. Picture subtitle: “Alain de Botton speaks during during TEDGlobal 2011, in Edinburgh. Photograph: James Duncan Davidson/TED”
    Even the text editor I’m using here picked up the double “during”. The previous article here about the Republicans believing less in evolution had several glaring errors as well. Does anybody pre edit their work before they are released any any more?

  8. The debt based fiat currency, fractional reserve lending and interest rates on loans are the big elephants in the room,
    that we need to start addressing because that’s why TED (good ideas in general) doesn’t seem to work atm. That’s the problem that society is currently being indolent and lethargic with.

  9. TED talks are often speculative, have some bias etc. That’s okay. Most peer review papers in science journals will also be wrong, why it works is people are prepared to engage in discussion (or in the case of science peer review) and work through the dross to find the nuggets of gold. Why criticise an organisation that tries to engage in ideas? Are we so lazy that we need to have some authority just select talk that we would agree with? Who is this? TED is fine, I’m glad its there just as I am wikipedia. If you understand the beast, know it’s limitations and use it as a jumping off point rather than an absolute authority it’s great!

  10. Why so much dislike of Alain de Botton? I found his talk interesting and insightful. Who can deny that religions which have survived for millennia have figured out a few important things about human nature — things that might even be useful to atheists? I find de Botton’s approach more appealing than Dawkins’, because he seems far less shrill and more likeable, articulate and cultured.

    • In reply to #17 by Imperius:

      Why so much dislike of Alain de Botton?

      things that might even be useful to atheists

      Some atheists…

      I suspect that amongst atheists are a highish proportions of more aspie types for whom the whole ritual thing is part of the problem. Or those more social others that have already sorted out their lives’ requirements because they have already thought things through with like-minded friends visits to the pub and concerts and book clubs, and involvement in political/eco/social pressure groups.

      Real, enjoyable and directly productive choices involving like-minded others already exist. Don’t ape the fatuous whilst real artists and performers are to be seen, real political/eco/social engagement can be got, and real debate with your mates over a pint is beckoning.

      There is also a distaste for forming us and them groups. Its part of the poison in my mind. Much as I enjoy spouting off here I have no automatic loyalty to atheists, only individuals who are funny, or wise or compassionate.

      • In reply to #18 by phil rimmer:

        In reply to #17 by Imperius:

        Why so much dislike of Alain de Botton?

        things that might even be useful to atheists

        Some atheists…

        I suspect that amongst atheists are a highish proportions of more aspie types for whom the whole ritual thing is part of the problem. Or those more social others tha…

        I think the idea of the religious thing is to expand one’s social circle beyond the people who have similar interests, beyond friends of friends, so that there is a community united by core beliefs and the search for meaning in life. I don’t think anyone is saying that everyone should abandon their current friends and join a new atheist religion to make new, better friends, it’s more to link up with people from different walks of life, and different outlooks, to remind us all that deep down we’re basically the same. This kind of institution would give people the language to express these kinds of feelings, and also an excuse to express them.

    • In reply to #17 by Imperius:

      Why so much dislike of Alain de Botton? I found his talk interesting and insightful. Who can deny that religions which have survived for millennia have figured out a few important things about human nature — things that might even be useful to atheists? I find de Botton’s approach more appealing th…

      People on this forum of all places suffer from knee-jerk reactions to the idea that other people gather together socially with people they don’t know very well to reaffirm core beliefs about the meaning of life and how to achieve and communicate about peak experiences.

      NO EVERYONE SHOULD SIT AT HOME AND READ DIFFICULT BOOKS ABOUT EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD AND ARGUE ABOUT IT ALL. THAT IS WHAT PARADISE MEANS. Where does one start with explaining how this model of the best way to spend one’s life is flawed and untenable?

      • In reply to #22 by utopia:

        to reaffirm core beliefs about the meaning of life and how to achieve and communicate about peak experiences.

        I think you have found your true calling. Go for it. I see you up there behind the lectern.

        What are our core beliefs as atheists?

        I’ll start us off-

        1) Lacking a belief in gods.

        2) erm?

    • In reply to #17 by Imperius:
      >

      I find de Botton’s approach more appealing than Dawkins’, because he seems far less shrill and more likeable, articulate and cultured.

      Was “sociopathic” the word you were looking for?

  11. never actually watched a TED talk thingy but I find it hard to believe a talk on ideas can be faulty some how. I wasn’t aware that this TED business was entrusted with changing the world. Just figured it was a chat. I had a client who was mad that she wouldn’t be able to speak at a TED thingy. Unfortunately, her approach to business success is the, all too common, feel good, visualize your success, spiritual rewards bullshit. It was hard not to tell her she was a full of shit nobody and that probably didn’t go down big with the TED audience.

  12. Finally someone who dares to speak the truth with regard to TED. Yes, I have watched and enjoyed quite a few videos myself. In recent years I have fortunately seen a depressive trend to stress the entertainment value and the personal experience on expense of substance. To be honest I have mostly watched science videos, so I can’t really talk about the rest of the contents. But, in the beginning the speaker was less important than the subject. Yes, they have always stressed the importance of being a good communicator and being able to speak to an audience of lay men. But, it was nonetheless the topic that was of importance. Of lately, my experience is that most videos are more about the speaker than the subject at hand. Infotainment so to speak. A performer with some subject that is of less importance.

  13. Great comments! It’s a library, basically. And the library has grown huge, because of interest, and because of its democratic nature. So, it’s just like perusing any library. You have to use your smarts to pick the best items in the library, and even then, some are sure to disappoint. It seems to me there’s no other way for it to be.

    Interestingly, TED is mimicked by comic book writer Jonathan Hickman, in his critically acclaimed, recent “Fantastic Four” series. Reed Richards, AKA Mister Fantastic, sets up the “Future Foundation”, a kind of TED Talks. And interestingly, Richards later gives a “TED Talk” to his group, condemning their diluted and lackluster progress. Art seems to imitate life, in this instance.

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