Friday, September 13th was a day full of TED-based excitement. After a morning topped off with an Academic Convocation featuring TED favorite Dan Ariely, I dashed to Cambridge to attend their local TED event, TEDxCambridge.

After becoming a TED devotee online, even establishing a (presently abandoned, but hopefully soon-to-be revitalized) ritual of live-Tweeting TED talks called “#TEDbeforebed,” I was excited to be able to see one of these events live. Once invitations went live, I applied and was pleased to be accepted to attend. This TEDx featured a unique opportunity to watch the event in the main hall, but also in an outdoor venue that allowed community members to stop and watch outside. I elected to get seating outside (read: missed the deadline for the indoor hall tickets), and loved being able to see talks from area innovators in the shadow of their workplaces and under the stars.

Rather than attempting to recount an event in detail from several weeks ago, I’ll share a few highlights of the event and talk more about what I liked and how I’d like to use the lessons taught.

The first talk of the evening came from Ariel Diaz, CEO of Boston-based firm Boundless Learning, and featured an impassioned plea to invert the classic way we look at curriculum. The thing that I love most about TED talks was evident in this speech. Diaz had a chance to speak at length about a principle that he truly believes in- the power of incorporating experiential learning into our educational system- while also incorporating his own interests and the inspiration for his work- Formula One racing. Most conferences focus on the former form of content, while ignoring or minimizing the importance of the latter. But TED allows for the source of inspiration to be expressed alongside the ideas they wish to spread.

Deepak Jagdish and Daniel Smilkov, two graduate students at MIT, used their TED talk to share the inspiration behind their Immersion platform, an MIT Media Lab project that creates a graphical representation of your email inbox. Being at a TED conference live gave me the opportunity to learn more about topics and projects that I may not have selected on my own when presented with an array of talks online. This talk is one of them. This tool is something that absolutely fascinated me from the moment they first started speaking about it, and I can’t wait to see where application and implementation of this tool goes from here. It’s always exciting to be in on the ground floor of a truly exciting idea, and I’d like to think that those in attendance at TEDxCambridge got that opportunity from Deepak and Daniel’s talk.

So, TED talks have the look of being polished and well-rehearsed. And they are. But sometimes, something goes awry. Bruce’s talk featured one of those moments. It was refreshing to see a TED talk, often criticized for their proselytizing ways and requests for unquestioning acceptance of espoused ideas, go less than perfectly. Ultimately, Bruce rebounded nicely from the technological misstep to deliver a fascinating and engaging presentation, even referencing the glitch during “take two” of his talk (another speaker, Sara Steger, mentioned it in hers as well). But it was a nice reminder that these talks aren’t the infallible seeming paragons of perfection that some would frame them as.

I love the TED concept for its ability to encapsulate big ideas into neatly packaged capsules, allowing those with limited time to learn something new about topics of interest. Further, creative presentations can engage audiences in content that they may not realize they’d like at first glance. At the same time, I understand the critique that they oversimplify some of the ideas they’re presenting. A talk about the use of a mapped genome to improve healthcare made sense as presented, but lends itself to questions that the TED format is ill-designed to address. So I appreciate the knowledge that it has gathered and spread, but still acknowledge the skepticism that it can occasionally draw.

On the whole, I had a fun and enlightening experience at TEDxCambridge, and am glad I got to look at the TED phenomenon from a new perspective. I look forward to following the work of the local innovators featured at the conference, and hope that I’ll get to help some of their ideas spread.

Have you ever been to a TED conference? How do you feel about TED? What are your favorite talks?

One thought on “Getting a TED-ucation

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