Sunday, March 2, 2008

The Wait Begins

If you don't know TED, I recommend that you introduce yourself. Technology. Entertainment. Design. And those words do it no justice whatsoever. TED is a conference that happens once a year in Monterey, CA and then usually a second time every year somewhere else. It brings a group of ridiculously smart and well-connected people together, asks the most brilliant and passionate among them to speak, and sets no boundaries except a loosely enforced 18 minute time limit. It produces mind-blowingly fascinating presentations about a wild variety of potentially world changing ideas.

My friend Mike introduced me to TED by hijacking my computer, loading up Hans Rosling, and pushing play. Hardly a day has gone by since on which I haven't emailed someone a link to a TED Talk.

Anyway, what I meant to tell you two paragraphs ago is that yesterday was the last day of TED 2008, and, if we're lucky, pretty soon we're going to see the latest Talks start to trickle onto the TED website.

I've been reading Ethan Zuckerman over the past few days to get a preview of the new material. Zuckerman writes a blog called My Heart's in Accra. In his words, it's a collection of "musings on Africa, international development and hacking the media." I first read him when I was following the TED Global conference in Arusha, Tanzania last spring, and I've kept an eye on him ever since. As he did from Arusha in April, he's spent the past few days liveblogging from Monterey.

Based on Zuckerman's notes (and with links to his posts), here's what I'm most excited to watch:

The repeat performances.

Botanist adventurer Wade Davis, author of One River, talked in 2003 about the tragic erosion of ethnodiversity. He continued that line of thinking this year, reminding us that while "humans are the agents of cultural destruction, we can be the agents of cultural survival.”

Novelist and poet Chris Abani, talked in Arusha last spring about stories, what they can teach us about cultures past, and how they shape cultures future. He talked again on Friday, positing that "the world is never saved in grand gestures, but through small, soft acts of compassion."

The development discussions.

Paul Collier ties compassion to enlightened self interest, and Bob Geldof transforms from pop punk songwriter to philanthropist.

The energy ideas.

Felix Kramer talks about hacking electric cars, and Craig Venter proposes that we use combinatorial genomics to turn CO2 into biofuels.

The superstars.

Dave Eggers asks that we all take time to educate our communities, and Stephen Hawking reminds us that "nothing is older than the universe."

And, of course, TED's specialty, the totally unexpected.

Joshua Klein
wonders just how smart crows are; Paul Stamets promotes fungus; and John Francis shares a life of listening.

TED 2008 ended yesterday, but BIL rages on. BIL's the new kid. It's a free, participant-organized conference that's hoping to become the open-source version of TED. We won't know how it went until it's over this afternoon, but I'm curious. If nothing else, I do appreciate its user-generated chameleon of an acronym. Blasphemy. Irreverence. Lilypads.

Note (Monday Mar 3): Umair just brought me back to Earth on TED a little bit. He likes the Talks, but he doesn't like the DNA. Solutions need to come from people that are suffering, not big brains in cushy auditoriums. I wonder what he thinks about last April's TED Global in Africa. I have to say that it was pretty weird when they threw William Kamkwamba on stage. Hmmm.

Another note: Should I have posted that as a new entry instead of making notes in green here?


Allie said...

Oh, I have such a crush on Dave Eggers.

Jake de Grazia said...

You'll have some competition from my mother. Ever since reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, she considers any literature that's simultaneously funny and touching to be "Eggers-influenced, clearly."

I'm not quite that fanatical, but I will say that Giraffes? Giraffes! is in the running for my favorite title of all time.