TED... is a series of short lectures on a variety of subjects that stream on the Internet, for free. That’s it, really, or at least that is all that TED is to most of the people who have even heard of it. For an elite few, though, TED is something more: a lifestyle, an ethos, a bunch of overpriced networking events featuring live entertainment from smart and occasionally famous people. Before streaming video, TED was a conference -- it is not named for a person, but stands for “technology, entertainment and design” -- organized by celebrated “information architect” (fancy graphic designer) Richard Saul Wurman. Wurman sold the conference, in 2002, to a nonprofit foundation... [which] grew TED from a woolly conference for rich Silicon Valley millionaire nerds to a giant global brand... [W]hile TED is run by a nonprofit, it brings in a tremendous amount of money from its members and corporate sponsorships. At this point TED is a massive, money-soaked orgy of self-congratulatory futurism, with multiple events worldwide, awards and grants to TED-certified high achievers... According to a 2010 piece in Fast Company, the trade journal of the breathless bullshit industry, the people behind TED are “creating a new Harvard -- the first new top-prestige education brand in more than 100 years.” Well! That’s certainly saying… something. (What it’s mostly saying is “This is a Fast Company story about some overhyped Internet thing.”) To even attend a TED conference requires not just a donation of between $7,500 and $125,000, but also a complicated admissions process in which the TED people determine whether you’re TED material... Strip away the hype and you’re left with a reasonably good video podcast with delusions of grandeur. For most of the millions of people who watch TED videos at the office, it’s a middlebrow diversion and a source of factoids to use on your friends. Except TED thinks it’s changing the world, like if “This American Life” suddenly mistook itself for Doctors Without Borders. [This analogy is far too generous to TED in my opinion --d] The model for your standard TED talk is...  Drastically oversimplified explanations of complex problems.  Technologically utopian solutions to said complex problems.  Unconventional (and unconvincing) explanations of the origins of said complex problems.  Staggeringly obvious observations presented as mind-blowing new insights. What’s most important is a sort of genial feel-good sense that everything will be OK, thanks in large part to the brilliance and beneficence of TED conference attendees. (Well, that and a bit of Vegas magician-with-PowerPoint stagecraft.)I definitely could not have said it better myself, and it's a sheer pleasure to read it, even better, to myself.
Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All
Monday, May 21, 2012
More Righteous Delicious TED Squawk Pushback
Alec Pareene says lots of devastatingly tough and true things about TED in Salon today. Read the whole piece, but here are some choice nuggets: