TEDsters
February 29, 2012 7:11 PM   Subscribe

"Smart talk has never been such a valuable commodity. It’s spawned conferences like TED, Davos, and now a slew of upstart competitors. It has made the eighteen‑minute TED lecture a viral online phenomenon. But are we running out of things to say?"
posted by vidur (47 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'll wait for the 18-minute TED talk on this before I decide.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:14 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nope.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 7:23 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


New York Magazine, meet Theodore Sturgeon. Theodore Sturgeon, New York Magazine.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:26 PM on February 29, 2012


So, the question "are we running out of things to say?" made me think... well, of course not! But, I thought, I should read the article about it before I commented...but, it was long, and it started out with this weird bit about getting mugged, for a TED badge (?!), and the police...and... All of a sudden, I realized that, if we had "run out of things to say", I wouldn't be reading this article... so, why finish it...?

And, of course, it raises the question, why are you reading this?

At this point, I've run out of things to say..

what a vicious cycle THIS has become, eh?
posted by HuronBob at 7:30 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sturgeon was the world's greatest optimist. 90%? I wish.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:32 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Never has "smart" meant less than in the sense used in TEDland, where glib pseudoprofundity and obsequious deference to wealth and power always win out over genuine thought — largely due to the format itself. I mean, the premise of the entire enterprise seems to be that a good enough Powerpoint stack can save the world. As twoth Doug Henwood in the best I've seen of the #5WordTEDTalks: "Hey I'm a slick blowhard!"

I am enjoying the Twitter stream of Markov-chained TED titles, though ("Goodbye, Textbooks; Hello, Open-source Cancer Through Proteomics!").
posted by RogerB at 7:32 PM on February 29, 2012 [15 favorites]


Metafilter seems to come up with plenty to say if you bring up obesity, circumcision, or cat declawing.

Maybe TED should discuss those more.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:33 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's slowly becoming a parody of itself. It feels to me like a lot of the talks are increasingly aiming at being 'TED talks' first, and vehicles of interesting content second.
posted by carter at 7:34 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, I think we reached peak meme with Rebecca Black.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:34 PM on February 29, 2012


How will our society survive after peak bloviation is reached? I have a radical idea to reorganize Western civilization so the primary form of economic activity is providing valuable goods ands services, rather than provocative short lectures.

Keep an eye out for my TED talk on the subject.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 7:36 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Maybe TED should discuss those more.

Actually, look out for my upcoming TED talk: "Cycling to Israel/Palestine to crowdfund a circumcision/declawing clinic".

Anderson knows one thing well: people will pay a lot of money to hear (or in his Future days, read) experts go on about what they enjoy. The great thing is, you hardly have to pay the experts anything, and yet the punters will happily pay through the nose if there's a whiff of smarter-than-thou.
posted by scruss at 7:54 PM on February 29, 2012


I was talking w/my friend about this the other day. TED seemed interesting at first, and maybe that was just me being younger and feeling I wanted to find new sources of information and hey, these people seem to have some unique perspectives, etc...

But the more I see TED, I'm just like "oh look, one more bloviating blowhard talking about some inane "insight" that might pique a curiosity, but in the end, the content is so not deep compared to what it could be, that well..."

And he said he felt the same thing.

Shame really, because the world needs some sort of forum for some really solid, deep interdisciplinary content. TED started off with that promise, and now looks more and more like pop-psychologists trying to self-pimp their latest "neat" idea about whatever bourgeois idea they hold about how they can solve the worlds problems.
posted by symbioid at 7:56 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: some sort of forum for some really solid, deep interdisciplinary content.
posted by HuronBob at 8:12 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


This single-link post (and the whole thread) was covered in comments on a SLYT FPP yesterday.

Shame really, because the world needs some sort of forum for some really solid, deep interdisciplinary content.

I'd settle for MeFi not turning into FARK.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:17 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Metafilter: pop-psychologists trying to self-pimp their latest "neat" idea about whatever bourgeois idea they hold about how they can solve the worlds problems.
posted by liketitanic at 8:34 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


The TEDx conferences were a good idea, but they've totally diluted the TED name. I bet more than half of the people that watch them don't know that the only connection between TEDx and the TED conference is coattail-riding.

I'm not a huge fan of either, though. Those of you who think TED's jumped the shark -- how much of the shark-jumping has come from TEDx talks?
posted by mendel at 8:37 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've basically become inured to TED talks thanks to BoingBoing.
posted by maryr at 8:49 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, this guy certainly hasn't. Seriously I got a quarter down the page without encountering anything I didn't already know (Except the mugging. I hadn't heard about that. Amusing)

Anyway, yeah. TED is lame. TEDx is lamer, for sure. But there have been some pretty lame TED talks. It's more stuff that makes you 'sound' smart to someone who isn't then stuff that's really insightful or interesting. I mean, they let Niall Furguson give one and he's an idiot (and his talk was moronic, and no, it wasn't a TEDx talk either).

My theory is: If you want to "seem smart" or be seen as a "public intellectual" you don't tell people something they don't already do. You tell them they something they already know, but don't realize they know, something they haven't thought a lot about. Anyway, if you tell them something they already know but haven't realized they know, they'll feel like their having an epiphany during your talk.
posted by delmoi at 8:50 PM on February 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


(see also: Thomas Friedman)
posted by delmoi at 8:54 PM on February 29, 2012


Half of the people who speak at TED seem like the type to edit their own wiki page. I used to frequent their website and I still like some of the talks, but there's so much more captivating, honest stuff available I rarely listen to them anymore. The article complains that the speakers are becoming gimmicky; what can you expect when you're presenting to an audience that's paid good money to imagine themselves on stage instead of you, who are really just waiting their turn to speak? The format and culture weigh on even the good presenters.

And lines like this from the author, a TED presenter:

TED is uniquely able to stir up the Internet’s latent intellectual-class resentments.

To speakers, filing a dispatch from TED is the jackpot of false modesty.

For people devoted to the ethereal buzz of cool ideas, the conferentsia can turn surprisingly catty.

To say TED jumped the shark is the wrong analogy. When it comes to engaging talk with interesting people, TED are middle managers trying to corral and monetize the dinner party. They are the DeVry of ideas.

This was an interesting read. Thanks.
posted by postcommunism at 9:02 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sometimes they can spin me off into a bit of research on some interesting topic, but that seems less and less the case lately.

Also, the pictures they use for the talks all have this upward angle, showing the speaker in an oratorical gesture, frozen mid utterance, and half of the time with something of a slight smirk. This didn't bother me a few years ago, but now it grates.
posted by amcm at 9:23 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someday I will give a TED talk. Mark my words!

On a related note, anyone have any idea how much a person gets paid for the talk? I need the money.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:25 PM on February 29, 2012


You're paid in applause, cjorgensen.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:38 PM on February 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


TED talks are brief and glitzy by design, like a TV show. The best media for complex and interesting ideas is books. Yet most people can't read more than a few dozen books a year if that. So the next best thing is the author book talk. Authors@Google is the best series of "smart talk" going. They last an hour and go into depth. The latest books and ideas in a constant stream.
posted by stbalbach at 9:39 PM on February 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


This single-link post (and the whole thread) was covered in comments on a SLYT FPP yesterday.

Indeed. Sorry for the double. It didn't show up as double on preview, perhaps because it is linked in comments, not FPP. I'll drop the mods a note and let them take a call.
posted by vidur at 9:44 PM on February 29, 2012


We're running out of good ideas to discover and smart people to execute those ideas. what was once a MIT class full of engineers to get us to the moon is now a bunch of financial analysis to give us the next boom bust cycle.
posted by SirOmega at 9:58 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


And because I can't not point it out, I'll add another quote from the author who is, again, himself a TED presenter:

Until recently, the universal self-­actualizing creative ambition was to write a novel. Everyone has a novel in them, it was said. Now the fantasy has changed: Everyone has a TED Talk in them.

Oh dear.
posted by postcommunism at 10:12 PM on February 29, 2012


[Having been posted as a comment doesn't make a post a double, just fyi. ]
posted by taz at 10:32 PM on February 29, 2012


Haters. :)

TED is the topical/intellectual equivalent of a vendor handing out free toothpick-sized samples of their food. You pass by dozens before one catches your interest, you sample it, and if you like it you take the next step (e.g. find more in depth interviews online, pick up a related book, etc.).

If I want to try and pique someone's interest in, say, Malcolm Gladwell or Steven Pinker's work on language and thought, the odds are much better (albeit still no guarantee) that your friend will commit to watching a 15 minute TED talk before, say, watching Gladwell's 1 hour 40 minute interview at the 92nd Street Y or actually buying their books.

(Admittedly, this is is one of the very many TED talks I'm passing up, so bad specific example :)
posted by Davenhill at 11:01 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


TED has some good content still. I'll watch talks if they come recommended by someone whose judgement I otherwise trust. But it's getting harder to sort through.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:18 PM on February 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm going to talk to you today about my experience creating comments about TED talks. Here's a provocative image and I'm going to speak about this. What my colleagues and I have found, is that this sort of image is similar to a different image. We've been to remote parts of the world, and we discovered another image which expresses the same underlying themes. I'm interested in the greater theme that all these images portray.

Most of you here are highly educated. Many of you have a lot of money. Lots and lots of money. And I'd like to point out that even though your life situation is exceptionally abnormal, you can all appreciate the universality of the next slide. You laugh, because who hasn't been there, right? We did some testing and the projections show that there will be more of that later. So we should be aware of that.

My story continues with another slide, and I'm going to talk about it. The interesting thing is that some of these slides are something anyone with an interest in things would be interested in. Something like this thing is a thing that everything or anything with an interest in these things is interested in. Think about it.

In conclusion, since I've used up my time, I want to say that I brought another slide and I hope you will applaud.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:41 AM on March 1, 2012 [12 favorites]


Might there be a cap on the number of interesting ideas in the universe?

In my opinion, it's not so much the novelty of the idea that's important, as how it is presented. The whole format of the TED - a monologue that is supposed to wow the viewer with the speaker's insight - is one-way. There's nothing revolutionary about that. It's the same old "prophet illuminating their followers" method.
posted by dubold at 2:25 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Five or six years ago I went on a date with someone who was working for TED; it was shortly after they had started showing the talks online, and she said they were trying to find ways to increase viewership. I said "just get rid of that smug intro sequence and slogan, it makes me want to punch the screen in." Apparently not the kind of input they were looking for.
posted by pete_22 at 2:45 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


TED is the visual equivalent of Malcolm Gladwell. Take one idea, strip all the complications away and tell a clever counter-intuitive story about it. Now create beautiful visuals and make sure your prepared remarks contain a few crisp phrases that stick in people's minds. Add smug and simmer gently. There's nothing wrong with that but it doesn't do anything for me personally.
posted by atrazine at 3:04 AM on March 1, 2012 [3 favorites]


Good article. A bit depressing to see that TED has become the target du jour, though. Yes, some of the TEDx talks (and even some of the TED talks) have diluted the overall impact, as has the fact that TED isn't the novelty it once was. But are we all such Renaissance men and women that we already know all about the topics of 1100 disparate 18-minute presentations? And assuming that we aren't, isn't it better to know 18 minutes' worth than 0 minutes' worth?

I've learnt a few things from TED talks, and been inspired at times; other times, not so much. I could say the same of any conference, any course, or pretty much anything. Metafilter included - but I'm still here.
posted by rory at 4:22 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someone needs to take the excess of TED talks and redistribute the wealth to the GOP presidential debates.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:48 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


But are we running out of things to say?

YES.
posted by Theta States at 6:54 AM on March 1, 2012


Half of the people who speak at TED seem like the type to edit their own wiki page.

Oh wow, thank you for so perfectly summing up the feeling I was having about TED. This describes it perfectly.
posted by Theta States at 7:00 AM on March 1, 2012


TED talks are kind of like a form of intellectual pornography--pornography in the sense that the result is a superficial sort of titillation. But that titillation doesn't carry over into the rest of life, any more than the sexual form of titillation from pornography makes viewers better at romance or sex.

It's "Eureka porn." All the dopaminergic rush of discovery, of iconoclasm, of feeling smart, with none of the slog, boredom and loneliness of doing real hard work. It further cheapens real intellectualism because it turns the most valued currency of one's work into whether it can produce sound-bite aphorisms that make laypeople feel clever for 10 minutes.

I'm not trying to say that cool stuff isn't cool or that amazing stuff isn't amazing. But I think TED talks encourage a consumerist attitude when it comes to knowledge and discovery. The type of knowledge which becomes "consumable" also becomes disposable. "I saw that one, show me the next one."
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:22 AM on March 1, 2012 [6 favorites]


I appreciate the TED has raised the bar on the quality of presentations throughout, but I think it has done it at the expense of setting expectations for big breakthrough ideas. At this point I would find useful a retrospective score card detailing how many of these ideas are making traction. My optimism and hope button has been pushed plenty of times by TED and their ilk. The "what if" game is good to expand horizons, but I'm kind of ready to know what fruit the exercise bears.
posted by dgran at 7:46 AM on March 1, 2012


It's "Eureka porn." All the dopaminergic rush of discovery, of iconoclasm, of feeling smart, with none of the slog, boredom and loneliness of doing real hard work.

That's well-put, but I can't help feeling that we could say the same of anything that falls short of doing the original research ourselves. Science reporting: eureka porn. Popular non-fiction books: eureka porn. Pretty much any film or TV documentary: eureka porn. All of them the visible tips of icebergs of hard intellectual slog, false starts and all the rest.

Watching 18 minutes on something is a bigger time commitment than watching a TV news story or reading most newspaper articles, and few of those would be any better in terms of intellectual weight. But to starve yourself of short news stories so that your intellectual purity is preserved for the 500-page definitive tome would strike most of us as perverse. Why should we see TED any differently? At least we hear about some people's work that doesn't often get reported.
posted by rory at 8:13 AM on March 1, 2012


Ever since TED moved here to my hometown of Long Beach, I have always thought of it as a wonderful but somewhat out-of-place addition to the city. I think though, that getting mugged for your TED pass describes so much of the Long Beach experience.
posted by malapropist at 8:49 AM on March 1, 2012




That's well-put, but I can't help feeling that we could say the same of anything that falls short of doing the original research ourselves. Science reporting: eureka porn. Popular non-fiction books: eureka porn. Pretty much any film or TV documentary: eureka porn. All of them the visible tips of icebergs of hard intellectual slog, false starts and all the rest.
The question is whether or not you're getting 'real' knowledge or if someone is just trying to simulate that sensation, without imparting real knowledge.
posted by delmoi at 4:36 PM on March 1, 2012


overeducated_alligator: " It's "Eureka porn." All the dopaminergic rush of discovery, of iconoclasm, of feeling smart, with none of the slog, boredom and loneliness of doing real hard work. It further cheapens real intellectualism because it turns the most valued currency of one's work into whether it can produce sound-bite aphorisms that make laypeople feel clever for 10 minutes."

I haven't watched enough recent TED talks to comment on their content these days, but what you're describing sounds to me like an effective way to stimulate curiosity and an affinity towards intellectual and scientific ideas. Just because somebody isn't the one doing the work in the trenches doesn't mean that them being exposed to this work, albeit in sound-bite aphorisms, isn't beneficial. It might inspire somebody to do some "real hard work" themselves or it might just make them have a greater appreciation for those doing the work. Why is this a bad thing?
posted by Defenestrator at 1:07 AM on March 25, 2012


malapropist: "Ever since TED moved here to my hometown of Long Beach, I have always thought of it as a wonderful but somewhat out-of-place addition to the city. I think though, that getting mugged for your TED pass describes so much of the Long Beach experience."

Hey now, Long Beach isn't doing so bad these days crime-wise. Compared to similar sized cities it's actually doing pretty well.

I noticed the TED conference downtown recently, but I didn't realize it was a long-term thing. It just stays in one place? How does that make sense?
posted by Defenestrator at 1:12 AM on March 25, 2012


Nah, THIS is Eureka porn. (SFW).
posted by symbioid at 6:57 PM on March 25, 2012


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