A Demystification of TED

“All propaganda or popularization involves a putting of the complex into the simple, but such a move is instantly deconstructive. For if the complex can be put into the simple, then it cannot be as complex as it seemed in the first place; and if the simple can be an adequate medium of such complexity, then it cannot after all be as simple as all that.” ~ Terry Eagleton

At a 2013 TEDxSanDiego event, Benjamin Bratton, a UCSD Professor spoke about “What’s Wrong with TED Talks?” In his 12 minute presentation, Bratton delivers an intellectual (his) perspective about why he believes TED Talks:

  • are a conceptualization of possibilities
  • are where people talk about inspiration and world-changing ideas and why they are not necessarily insightful
  • are timid approaches
  • generate affectation but not actual effectuation of change

Last month I posted about perspective. And Bratton’s view is his perspective; one person’s opinion. I find it an interesting one. And I’m sharing it here for your viewing, consideration, and invited comment. Yes, it’s a 12 minute video, yet it provokes thought and possibly, a changed perspective.

I also chose this topic because I’m an advocate for personal transformation – which can contribute to social change. As a Baby Boomer, I am aware of how our generation is not only impacted by rapid shifts in science, technology and medicine, but in design and entertainment as well. We’re all part of the “system” and thus, equally responsible for its problems and solutions.

Rather than recommending three tips or techniques (as I often do) specific to a post, I encourage you to share your perspective, once you’ve viewed the video. Its companion article can be read here.

23 thoughts on “A Demystification of TED

  1. Hi Eric, This is a very different post and TED Talk. I’m not sure I understand your perspective on his talk or reason for wanting us to comment. I think he has some valid criticisms of TED Talks, but find it ironic that he gave it AT a TED Talk! Inspiration feeds me and many others and yes, if we aren’t taking action, then they are simply good ideas ( and maybe not even good ideas according to him). I think he criticized too much with oversimplified labels and judgemental words to put others in boxes. Somehow we do need to address the world’s biggest problems. I don’t have the answers, but it will probably take inclusive, open minded discussion of many different people, skills, and perspectives. And we might need to take back our lives/ world/ economy back from corporations if we want transformational change. Right now, it seems corporations and big money run the world. Your turn!

    • Hi Brad, it might have been more helpful had I been clear about the invitation to comment. Yet I didn’t want to influence or bias anyone’s take about the presentation. What I was interested in was what different perspectives those who viewed the video might have had. The invitation to comment was made with the hope that there would be a range of opinions and possibly, some viable ideas or solutions to the challenges Bratton posed. I think if one reads through the following comments, it is evident that there were varied interpretations on his delivery and varied reaction to same.

      And yes, this post differed from most on this blog. This was intentional, if only to change the mix, momentarily. Thanks for creating time and to share your thoughtful views! Now I return you to your regularly scheduled channel. 🙂

  2. This is very relevant and interesting…I agree with you that dumbing down issues don’t work for the amazing real work which is being done in today’s T E D. It is insane that if you are not a Hollywood style actor, presenter or don’t have the ability to spellbound audience with your messianic talk you are destined to fail or appear to have failed in your quest to make world a newer, different and sometimes better place. One aspect of the article is quite revealing (I like written word over presentations being more precise analysis) that investors don’t invest if your expertise is put to one side and they are assessing your ability to sell snake oil. I am a real life an expert in finance, and to me we need to hire people who are good at ‘cleaning’ any message to investors for some revolutionary albeit extremely complex technology. Not all experts in various fields I have met are good presenters. TED is about pushing little (and I do emphasis ‘little’) bit of knowledge about an idea to ‘public’ to create a ‘wow’ effect and nothing beyond that. Only once people have reached certain level of success they appear on these talks so I am hopeful that TED won’t dumb down the actual T E D it just pushes people to learn acting their part for the sake of a wider world. Unlike Bratton, I am quite hopeful that TED won’t affect actual T E D and we have a place for geeks, mad/inventors who keep pushing the boundaries.

    • AB, I am inclined to agree with your remark “TED is about pushing little bit of knowledge about an idea to (the) public to create a ‘wow’ effect…” I also concur with your expressed hope that we can still provide forums in which the geeks, mad (scientists), and inventors can continue to push boundaries. I appreciate your choosing to add to the ‘conversation.’ Thank you.

      • Eric, good to hear from you, it was a pleasure to be part of such a conversation, pleased that intellectually we are nearly aligned. I am very hopeful mainly because scientists will always find salespersons to represent them mainly because of monies involved. Call me optimist but I think we will be just fine and TED is just fun and games we should all see it that way 🙂

  3. Right up there with you, Eric – a Baby Boomer – taught to enjoy privileges but also contribute personally to creating them and maintaining a good social balance where each and every one of us is responsible for the “system” to work…

    • Thanks, Ina, for acknowledging our generations roll in maintaining good social balance. If you have a roll in creating something, it’s up to you to support and/or improve upon it – in conjunction with equal beneficiaries from across other generations.

  4. Interesting video. Off the top of my head:

    1. Bratton’s points apply to some TED talks some of the time.
    2. All TED talks are not created equal.
    3. TED addresses a great diversity and range of topics.
    4. TED speakers address complicated topics in an accessible fashion.
    5. Those who want more information on a topic of interest don’t have to stop with TED.
    6. TED never promised to “save the world.”
    7. TED is just one “book” in the world of Global information.

    @ Writing to Freedom: TEDxSan Diego is not the same thing as a TED conference. It’s NOT organized by TED. Bratton did not give his anti-TED talk at a TED conference.

      • Thanks, Eric. I thought about this some more.

        I believe TED’s primary benefit lies in reminding us that the “what is” is not a constant or a given, it is static and changing. TED Talks open eyes to the field of possibilities.

        Instead of despair: “I have seen the future and it doesn’t work” . . . viewers leave with hope: “I have seen the future and it MIGHT work.”

        But anyone who expects to move from “IGNORANT” to “EXPERT” on a subject after a short 20 minute lecture is in serious need of a reality check. :mrgreen:

      • I agree with you on all three counts especially, …field of possibilities and what might work. But it takes a significant pooling of myriad resources/interests to effect the action that will yield imagined/envisioned change. That is where the rubber meets the road.

  5. Well, Eric, to be fair, I couldn’t understand what he was talking about. And even a Google didn’t tell me what TED stood for. So I guess I’m going to be unable to have my say here, except that one must not presume that TED and WTF etc are understood by everyone…

    • http://www.ted.com/talks

      If you have a desire to loose yourself for hours in fascinating video presentations or if you’re just looking to procrastinate online, click the link and don’t blame me. 🙂

      And yes, TED presenters are not always understood by everyone. Over the years, TED and TEDx Talks have run the gamut from brilliant to what were they thinking. To my post, much of it is open to individual perspective.

  6. I read his article in the Guardian, thank you for sharing though, you’ve got some interesting thought. I guess part of the problem is the insatiable desire to create change. This is what apparently drives most of TED speakers. However it is important to bear in mind that the only key to perpetual change is not through the criticism of the currently existing models, but through the creation of new models that make the currently existing models obsolete. Unfortunately this has not been done successfully on a large scale.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Subhan. I am inclined to agree with you about the sizable desire to create change. I would also suggest that in some cases, it can be helpful to first assess (gauge, critique, …) a model to determine its value and efficacy before jumping to create new models. Expedited ‘out with old the in with the new’ (and I realize you’re not saying this exactly) has left some valuable developments on the table. A variation on the adage, ‘why change something that works well’ likely has some merit here. And cautious advancement seems prudent which I believe is some of what Bratton was trying to seed.

      Your adding to the thread and your thoughtful perspectives are appreciated!

      • I agree with you, Eric. I find the vegan movement is compelling, and I thought it is based on the idea of creating a new model. I have been tempted to be a vegan, but succumb to my current eating habit for various reasons. One of them is the fact that meat eating exists in almost all cultures in the world, except in countries like Nepal, Bhutan, and India. But then meat eating is in the majority. Would the majority, throughout the history of humanity be wrong? It’s not that meat eating is bad, as the delicacies of various dishes are irresistible to many, but the overconsumption of meat is bad. I thought the vegan movement might have been started by this notion; added with the ideas of animal cruely, the contribution to the creation of pure solidified soul, and the creation of better diet, it opposes meat consumption. For many reasons, vegan movement may not be able to replace the predominantly existing meat eating culture, and yet it may offer better understanding towards healthier eating habit. Now we’re having this steadily growing and promising awareness of healthier lifestle and diet. It results in a new model, hence a synthesis, would you say?

      • Nice parallel and progressive illustration, Subhan. Thank you for taking the time to elaborate. I find it a good example to strengthen your perspective. A valid synthesis, indeed!

        Paying more attention to what we ingest and its nutritional value is consciously productive. 🙂

  7. I read this post and the article in the Guardian. After almost 80 years of experience (40 in the Soviet Union and almost 40 in US) I am sure that cultural level of American society deteriorates very fast and that intellectuals recognize it. Despite progress in technology poverty is increasing.
    The author of the article believes that a new unknown economic structure is necessary and some grandiose change must be made. I believe that it would be better to analyze why capitalism is not working as well now as it was working before and make reasonable changes.
    Unfortunately, I don’t know anyone in our government who is prepared to do it.

    • To your remarks, JF, I agree that there exists a plethora of possible solutions to today’s social challenges. Talking about them is one thing; taking significant action on them is another. Agreed…in the U.S., our elected officials, especially at the Federal level, are unlikely to lead us into that direction. Thus, it’s up to we who are willing to a effect continual, constructive change! Thank you for sharing your perspective.

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