“Ideas worth spreading” is their motto, and last week the tycoons from TED disseminated their philosophy across Blighty for the 4th TED Global; the second in the city of Edinburgh.
With an open mind and an eager ear, i-D dispatched our Associate Publisher, Mimma Viglezio to report from the front-line of forward thinking and future glancing at TED Global. Here’s what she found…
The theme of the first morning session was ‘Radical Openness’, and from the speakers, Don Tapscott – who labelled himself as a visionary – to the NATO Supreme Commander, we heard talks about just that. There was nothing really new or surprising in the way Don used the metaphor of flocks of birds, that fly in perfectly choreographed patterns as a means of protecting each other from predators to show how collective power can change the world more than the decision of one individual, and how the age of digital has made that possible and faster. More surprising though that a top military man showed us that you can be an admiral of NATO and a powerful military leader and have an openness of mind and a flair for speaking that makes a liberal audience like the one at TED get on their feet to give you a standing ovation.
The afternoon sessions ‘Tinker Make Do’ and ‘Building Blocks’ blew my mind away. I learnt that the Internet provides places for people to create and make machines, tools, softwares and share instructions and ideas with each others. I heard the English sculptor Antony Gormley talk in a very poetic way about his art, focusing on the evidence of an invisible living body on other living bodies, and his definition of the invisible man as “consciousness without an object”.
I found out about an online university called Coursera that, in only a few months, already counts 640,000 students in 190 countries and has had 14 million video views, providing students a personalised academic curriculum and a diploma.
And last but certainly not least, came Professor Beau Lotto who introduced us to Amy, the youngest published scientist and the youngest TED speaker ever. Dr Lotto proved that sciences are about simple observation and testing. He did just that by studying a certain bee behaviour in a class of 10-year-old pupils, and by making them write the theory, the experience and the results. It took him four months to do the research and two years to find someone to publish it. But when it was published, it soon became one of the most read, downloaded, respected and acclaimed of all time. Amy was on the stage, she moved and inspired us all.
The singer Macy Gray delighted us with a short concert to close the session. I left thinking once more how blessed I am to be here.
The best thing about this second day was the talent displayed by two very young musicians. First came Natasha Paremski, a 25-year-old virtuoso pianist who delighted the audience with two memorable short performances. Her exuberantly joyful talent delivered difficult repertoires with an ease hard to believe. And then – when we thought we couldn’t get anything better – came Usman Riaz, a 21-year-old Pakistani composer and acoustic guitar player who had us all on our feet in disbelief. When he plays his instrument he moves beyond strumming and uses his fretboard like the soundboard of a piano. Mind-blowing.
Another beautiful talk-cum-performance came from Wayne McGregor, the choreographer in residence of the Royal Ballet and founder of Random Dance Company. His work explores places where mind and movement intersect. He gave us an improvised taste of it with two dancers who then created a one-minute choreography to illustrate his reasoning. Compelling…
The session ‘Misbehaving Beautifully’ was about people suffering from mental diseases and the doctors fighting those diseases, to discuss the urgency of raising awareness on such conditions that are mainly untreated and stigmatised by any society. Ruby Wax managed to make us laugh hysterically about her “Tsunami of all depressions”.
This morning I actually learned that today everything can be shared (even your pet) over the Internet. Millions of websites are created to allow us to exchange stuff and share our things or skills, allow people with lesser financial means to make some money or to have access to experiences and things that are otherwise off limits. Taskrabbits.com for instance is the eBay for errands. Anybody can do anything for you and 70% of rabbits, ie taskers, are unemployed and can make up to £5k a month by putting their skills at the usage of strangers.
The session ‘Talk to Strangers’ was about trust and the capital of trust people build online by getting reviews and leaving their reputation trailing behind them in the virtual world. I also learnt about body language and how that changes or influences perception, not only from other people towards us, but also our own’s. We can fake it till we make it, or even, according to Professor Amy Cuddy, “fake it till we become” and her life experience is proof of this. I strongly urge you to look up her terrific talk online soon.
The day closed with a session called ‘Framing’ where scientists told us or showed some of their amazing discoveries. I was intrigued by a talk by a smart professor of behavioural economics at Yale who studied languages and the attitude towards saving of their native speakers. A research will soon be published to demonstrate how a native speaker of languages with no future tense in their grammar, are more prone to save their money… Interesting.
This morning one performer/speaker moved me to tears. You probably all know about Daria Musk‘s phenomenal cyber story… Daria comes from “the woods in Connecticut”, as she said and she became an overnight Internet sensation by turning Google+ Hangouts into interactive concerts. She played and sang for 10 than 100 then 100,000 and then 1,000,000 people in concerts lasting between six and eight hours straight to keep up with world time zones. She played for us and brought in (online) a few of her fans creating right in front of us something that before would’ve seemed impossible. It does not matter if one likes her music or not, what matters is what she did. She might be a lucky lottery winner and forever remain the only one who succeeded in fulfilling her dream this way, but she did, and that is inspiring.
My other inspiration of this last half day of TED was in a session called ‘Taking Another Look’, where a woman called Mina Bissell, a cancer researcher who never accepted the status quo (and still doesn’t, notwithstanding her not so young age) to always take another look. She studied cancerous cells and managed to revert malignant ones by searching for clues to how cancer’s environment is influencing its own growth. She said “arrogance kills curiosity” and that for me was the best line of the whole week.
I wish I could write more about another dozen talks that have opened up my eyes, my brain and my curiosity but it is impossible in this space. You will be able to listen to them all, in a few days, on ted.com. Oh and be careful, it’s addictive!
Follow Mimma on Twitter here for all the latest from the world of i-D’s Associate Publisher.