July| Vol. 22 No. 8.02 | Christian's Chronicles © 2015 – All rights reserved.
If you are familiar with TED talks, well, then you need no introduction. If you are not, then take a while to find out what they are. I will wait, go ahead.
So, then. My introduction to TED talks was at a friend’s house, years ago. I was looking for something to watch on TV, and she had one of those nifty interactive television thingies, with which I, as a person who has not had a TV for many years now, was unfamiliar. I browsed the available programs to watch instantly, and I cam across TED talks. You, dear reader, may find this funny, but at first I had expected something entirely different. I thought this was something like a funny outtake or a promotional video for the movie “Ted,” about a magical teddy bear that comes to life. To my surprise, I was not met with the cheap laughs I expected. Nonetheless, I was blown away.
I cannot remember exactly which TED talks I viewed that day, my first time, as a virgin to TED talks. But I do remember being overwhelmed by the sheer awesomeness of what I was watching. True to their tagline, this really seemed to be full of ideas worth spreading. I was an instant fan.
Then, over the years, I kept up with TED (not the teddy bear…) online through their community as well as by simply ‘liking’ them on Facebook, and getting updates with various talks. And I started to notice something. Basically, their stuff was getting watered down. What seemed to be truly cutting edge, thought-provoking, sometimes brilliant material as the stuff of the TED talks had gradually been diluted to wishy-washy, feel good bullshit to essentially “inspire” the audience as nothing more than a form of entertainment, or a manner of appealing to the need for the audience to feel like they are somehow special because they are ‘aware’ or… or who knows what. I was astonished by how little substance there was left in some of the TED talks I watched now, years after my first awesome introduction to TED that had blown me away.
The coup de gras came when I saw that Tony Robbins, Mr. Inspirational bullshit himself, and king of all salesmen of meaningless garbage, was featured on a TED talk. I had sort of expected that not all the TED talks would live up to the levels of awesomeness I had stumbled upon in my first encounter with TED, and inklings of the rising tide of feel-good bullshit had already been apparent with a talk that was, at least for a while (if NPR’s references years ago were correct) the most popular TED talk with a gazzillion views online, a talk about ‘vulnerability.’ I think it is worthless garbage lacking in substance, but you be the judge; here’s the link.
So, to sum things up, I think what happened was that over time, TED basically sold out. They started courting the interests of the simple minded masses who are more attracted to foo foo babble that is easily digested and provide pleasure through appeals to the emotions, as opposed to the beauty of complex, novel ideas that gratify by exciting the intellect.
As part of this tale of disillusionment with TED, I should also mention that I once attended a live TEDx event, which is sort of like the bastard child of TED talks. It is a local event that gets a license to use the TED name, but it is not strictly produced by the TED machinery, so to speak. At least that was my understanding. At any rate, attending that event, which did have a price tag that limited the audience to those who enjoyed a certain level of privilege and perhaps would benefit most from the cathartic cleansing of feel good bullshit that would reassure each one that he or she is indeed a good person, despite the luxury each enjoys while innocent children are dying of hunger down the street and across the globe, I was left with one idea echoing in my head: for all the talk, what – if anything – has this accomplished?
It is nothing more than entertainment, dressed up to have the appearance of something more meaningful so the audience can get a snobbish satisfaction from participating in a more ‘enlightened’ event. But in essence, it is nothing more than cheap theater.
I do admit that some of the speakers genuinely moved me at that event. I was most surprised to find that a man who had done nothing more than play a ukulele had managed to almost move me to tears. This is certainly a noteworthy experience, but if anything, it speaks to the skills and talents of that man as an artist. It is not the intellectual stimulus that I think most people in the audience pretend to experience at a TED event.
To conclude, I think it was inevitable with the growth in numbers that the quality of TED talks would become diluted. I am disappointed by what I see as wasted potential. I certainly think that there still are worthwhile TED talks to not only inspire, but to also challenge and appeal to the intellect, and more importantly, to actually accomplish something other than tickling the audience’s evaluation of itself as a body of caring, enlightened individuals – or whatever buzzwords make them feel good about themselves. So much for TED, and what I see as its downward spiral.
But I think it could be different.
I think an online platform with the resources of TED could be used to create so much more good. For a while now, I have been thinking about and planning ways to implement things that use all the wonderful technology we have, and which we waste on selfies and on posting and sharing nonsense online, to do something more. I think that technology should serve us by promoting and enhancing our humanity and our connection and empathy toward others as fully human beings, as opposed to the blurbs to which we have reduced one another. I think technology should contribute to and serve our goals as moral agents, and not merely serve be guided by the profit motive. I have plans in the works to put all this together and to explain it in more detail. But that, as they say, is a story for another Chronicle.