Thursday, March 4, 2010


I've been meaning to post something about the Ted Conference ever since I got back. It would take me weeks to even attempt to cover everything, so I thought I'd at least post something in the form of a little photo essay. The tag line for TED is "Ideas Worth Sharing," and this year's umbrella them was "What the World Needs Now." I've got to say that the founding premise of TED - that it would be a good thing to bring together people with interesting ideas and give them a forum for sharing them with others - both in person and by way of digital archiving - strikes me as incredibly simple and valuable and brilliant and worth celebrating. I've also got to say that this was one of the best-organized events, top to bottom, I've even been part of.

The conference was held at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, seen here from the top of a nearby building that I went to one evening for an after-hours jam session by the group Ethel, a string quartet which was the house band for the conference. They performed at the start of each morning and afternoon session all week.

The main conference hall was inside the center, and the stage was designed as a sort of attic with lots of odds and ends on display. In the center of the main stage was an enormous closed-circuit TV screen so that you could watch whoever was presenting close up even if you were in the balcony.

This, for example, is the stuff on display just on the right hand side of the stage. That human head is something like six feet tall.

I wound up watching most of the sessions from the balcony, which was less crowded and offered a more panoramic view. I did this drawing of what I could see from my angle of vision during one of the early presentations.

The emcee was Chris Anderson. If anyone reading this blog has any connections with Canton, Massachusetts and is getting the willies looking at this picture, that's what I was getting during the whole entire conference. The resemblance of this guy to a certain long-time baseball coach in Canton was really weird.

This is from the second floor of the conference hall, near the entrance to the balcony, looking back down at the first floor. They had juice bars and barrista bars in six or eight different locations at the conference. They also had breakfast and lunch tables set up. You could get something to eat any time you wanted it pretty much all day long. Outside you can see some of the tents they set up as social areas. Each social area had its own food dispensaries, comfortable tables and chairs, and closed circuit TV, so you could hang out there to watch the presentations if you didn't want to be in the main hall.

My own personal favorite place to hang out was the bookstore they had set up on the second floor. They had a ton of interesting books related to TED themes on display (and for sale), and then there was the lounge area you see here, again with its own hi-def widescreen LCD panel.

There were a bunch of amazing performers during the week. Here you see David Byrne performing with Ethel backing him up. That's Thomas Dolby on keyboards, who was onstage with Ethel all week long. Other performers included Sheryl Crow, Natalie Merchant, and Andrew Bird.

The talks started at 8:00 in the morning each day and went straight through every day until 6:00, after which there were donor-sponsored dinners at various places, including a block party in Long Beach where they roped off the entire block, booked all the restaurants, had the (free) desserts and the drinks out on carts in the street, and a live band to entertain:

Every day started off with a "TED University" session, which was basically 15 three minute talks in 45 minutes. They invite people to speak, get 300 applications, and choose one out of eight, on every imaginable subject. The morning and afternoon sessions were grouped loosely by themes, of which there were twelve: mindshift, discovery, action, reason, provocation, invention, breakthrough, boldness, imagination, play, simplicity, and wisdom. I wound up seeing something like 100+ presentations, about 40 of the 18 minute variety that they post on the site, and another 60 or 70 three-minute talks.

I took a ton of notes that I have not had the chance to even review yet. After a while it all kind of turned into a pleasant blur. Looking back, the four presentations that have stuck in my mind were a talk on climate change by Bill Gates; a talk by Mark Roth, a scientist who was describing how they are beginning to figure out how to chemically induce the kind of metabolism slowdown that allows someone, every couple of years, to survive being frozen, and what will eventually mean in terms of stabilizing people at accident scenes so they won't bleed out until they get them to the hospital; a talk on Justice by Michael Sandel, who teaches a course of that name at Harvard for which the lectures are all available online (he also just came out with a very good book (same title) that I'm reading now; and an amazing talk by a 13-year-old girl named Adora Svitak who came and chided the attendees, as representative adults, for giving currency to the word "childish," which she felt was an unfair and inaccurate word to characterize the capabilities of small people. She just thought that kids deserved to be taken more seriously than that. That girl rocked. Another really good presentation was by Natalie Merchant, who sang a bunch of songs from her new album which is devoted to putting late 19th and early 20th century poems to music. Ken Robinson was also back again in fine form.

This is all by way of a beginning. Yet knowing how way leads onto way, I don't know if - or when - I'll be back to this subject. But boy, was it great. Thanks, Youngblood.

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