Almost anyone in academia or business administration has seen a “TED Talk.” These are five to twenty-five-minute lectures first given at TED events. The presentations are then available on YouTube.
The Power of TED
The power of these talks comes from their easy availability. They have a Creative Commons license. They can be used for educational purposes, but not edited nor modified. No one can charge admission when presented to groups, classes or business meetings. The more popular videos have tens of millions of views.
Many high school and college instructors use TED Talks for their classes. The lectures present controversial ideas, almost always with a leftward slant. The instructor can say, “I don’t agree with everything here, but some of the ideas are very good.” Such disclaimers usually quiet parents and appease administrators.
The breadth of subject areas is stunning. TED’s “25 most popular” talks included –
- Do Schools Kill Creativity?
- Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are
- How Great Leaders Inspire Action
- Brain Magic
- What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness
- Your Elusive Creative Genius
The TED Organization
TED was the brainchild of Richard Saul Wurman and Harry Marks. TED’s self-written history credits Mr. Wurman as being inspired by the similarities within the worlds of technology, entertainment, and design.
The organization’s goals are outlined on its web page.
TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives, and, ultimately, the world. On TED.com, we’re building a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers — and a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other, both online and at TED and TEDx events around the world, all year long.
TED is not a place for the traditionalist.
The major TED Conference takes place annually. The 2020 event will take place in Vancouver in late July to an audience of 1,200.
Attendance requires an application process. Potential attendees should be “leaders in their field” and able to “make a strong contribution.” The standard admission fee for the five-day event is $10,000, although a few first-time attendees get in at half-price. Both levels are sold out for the 2020 meeting.
The first day features talks from “up and coming world changers.” Next are three days of “mainstage talks,” supplemented by “Discovery Sessions.” The last day is an “epic final session” and a farewell picnic.
The talks are only part of the branded experience. The conference abounds with chances to “network” with fellow members of the social and scientific vanguard. TED facilitates such contacts with an app called “TEDConnect.” TED also holds more limited events – TEDWomen, TEDSummit (for business leaders), TED-Ed Weekend (for “the next generation of TED) – among others.
The themes resonate with modern sensibilities. TEDWomen 2019’s tagline was “Bold + Brilliant.” TEDSummit 2019 celebrated “A community beyond borders.”
“Ideas Worth Spreading”
While TED’s chosen ones profit from the events, the talks’ most significant impact is through the Internet. The catchphrase “Ideas worth spreading” finds a vast audience online.
Consider the talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” with its eighteen million-plus views. Many viewings took place (as this author experienced) in faculty meetings. Perhaps a tenth of the population of the United States has seen it. The speaker, Sir Ken Robinson, charges that “Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mined the earth.”
Hosts of parents, teachers, and administrators take this statement as newly revealed truth. However, Sir Ken merely reiterates a common bias within the education system – that creativity is more important than factual knowledge. This idea harkens back to the turn of the twentieth century. John Dewey (1859-1952), often cited as the father of progressive education would agree. Sir Ken’s startling revelation is a cornerstone of Prof. Dewey’s 1938 book, Experience and Education.
Sir Ken pretends to impart wisdom while appealing to his audience’s prejudices. This pretense is familiar to many TED Talks. Otherwise intelligent people enjoy being persuaded that they possess great understanding. They presume to be the “golden people” who have come to bring light to a confused world. Consider the following quotations.
“These technologies will make us more human, to be more connected to our physical world.” Pranav Mintry, “The Thrilling Potential of Sixth Sense Technology.”
“We are the life-force power of the universe.” Jill Bolte Taylor, “My Stroke of Insight.”
“Shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection. Is there something about me that if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?” Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability.”
“Decision is the ultimate power.” Tony Robbins, “Why We Do What We Do.”
“There are leaders and those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or authority, but those who lead inspire us.” Simon Sinek, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”
“Go off to the wilderness. Be like Buddha. Have your own revelations.” Susan Cain – The Power of Introverts.
Diversity – Within Limits
TED claims to “have a balanced, diverse group that can support our mission of bringing great ideas to the world.” Conversely, the God of Christianity is notably absent. TED’s “Community Guidelines” prohibit comments that are “Not appropriate for the TED.com audience: pseudoscience, zealotry, personal requests, proselytizing and self-promotion are not acceptable and will be removed.” Admonitions to “Be like Buddha” are acceptable, but the invocation of Christian virtue would offend TED’s humanist sentiments.
In this setting, Emily F. Rothman could spend fifteen minutes discussing “How Porn Changes the Way Teens Think About Sex” without ever mentioning abstinence or chastity. The Boston University Professor did lament the lack of “medically accurate” sex education. She was, however, encouraging teenagers to “grapple with the complexities” of pornographic materials. She advised, “They are living in an adult world, and they are ready for adult conversations.” Her audience cheered.
A Mouthpiece of Modernism
TED is a virtual compendium of modern and postmodern thought. Traditional wisdom and virtue have no home here. The great universals – truth, goodness, and beauty – are notably absent. It is an accurate reflection of the post-1968 academic world. TED promotes a full range of opinions – from left to far left.
In 2018, Zachary R. Wood gave a TED Talk titled “Why It’s Worth Listening to People You Disagree With.” Other than the grammatical faux pas of ending his title with a preposition, it is a great idea. One thing is sure, however. Mr. Wood won’t find any of them at a TED event.