What's up with this?
January 26, 2012 1:17 PM   Subscribe

Why is TED so great and why would I want to go?

I have been aware of the TED conference for years and always considered it somewhat interesting, kind of like World Economic Forum for creative geeks. But in the past couple of years I have been seeing the kind of accolades associated with having scaled Mt Everest or eating chocolate associated with it. Words like "mind altering," "life changing," "OMG, my brain just exploded into rainbows."

Recently my community had a TEDx. The people who organized it were the ones who usually organize drum circles. (I don't have a problem with drum circles.) This kind of made me a bit concerned, since they were definitely not creative geeks. I personally know many of the presenters and I was really confused as to why they would be presenting. I think they are interesting people, but I think I am interesting and I don't think I should present at TED or even TEDx.

I looked on line at some of the criticisms of TED, which were usually about how annoyed the person was that they could not get in. Some were more thoughtful. But the reactions to these criticisms were somewhat alarming and childish. Many of these people claim to have gone to TED.

I want to find TED interesting and compelling, since I am suppose to. So rather than tell me how awesome it it, tell me why. And if you think it is a crock, tell me why.
posted by fifilaru to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Based on my experience of Renaissance Weekends, I think the point of actually going to TED would be to go on an intellectual vacation where you not only hear fascinating talks by Really Smart People, but meet other Really Smart People in person and hang out with them and chew over the talks.

You can hear the talks on the Web. The point of going is meeting new people. Consider it the equivalent of a cruise ship, where everyone is smart.

Bear in mind, you probably will not keep most of the friends you make there -- in that, it's much like a cruise ship as well. But if you make the effort, you might keep one or two.
posted by musofire at 1:20 PM on January 26, 2012

I would go solely to see stuff like this.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:21 PM on January 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

TEDx events are 100% locally organized, with the range in quality you get from that. Some generate fantastic content, some are pretty awful, some are both from speaker-to-speaker. It's entirely possible that your local one isn't something you'd want to attend, even if one a few cities over, or the "main" TED, would be something you would like.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:24 PM on January 26, 2012

TEDx is sort of like the farm team for the majors. Networking is really the point of TED, for many people, I think.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:50 PM on January 26, 2012

I think an important factor in deciding whether or not you want to attend TEDx is whether or not the presenters actually listen. From my experience, locally at least, TEDx is a great opportunity for big fish in small ponds to get people to listen to them talk for an hour. Which is a real turnoff. There are lots of ideas out there, but few people actually executing ideas.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:58 PM on January 26, 2012

Have you watched any of the Ted Talks online? They have a website that I always have fun pootling around.

I love to watch and keep up with the TED lectures they post, and while I haven't liked them all, or understood all of them all or agreed with them all there are more than a couple that have blown me away in a "I've never thought of it that way before" kind of a way and I like that feeling. I imagine listening to braggards that organized a TEDx so they could listen to themselves might be less interesting than one organized to share ideas, unless of course they were experts in their field.

This is one of my favorite TED talks, in case you are interested.

Having said that you don't have to find any of it interesting be it TED or TEDx, it's be a boring old world if we all liked the same thing, and vanilla would be the only flavour of ice cream. .
posted by wwax at 2:23 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

What city did you attend TEDx in?

I'd try to apply to more than one around you. You might live in a city with a not-so-stellar group of speakers (or maybe just ones you've seen/heard many times before), but perhaps the next city over has a better selection of speakers.

From your description, it sounds like they may have been a first-time TEDx group. The idea behind TED is Technology, Education, and Design. The set of speakers should reflect that, even on a local level. If you don't feel like that's being held up as a standard, get involved in the organization of the next one.

The group I'm involved with has a speaker suggestion process that former and applying attendees can recommend someone to speak. While we do have own own vetting/selection process, there have been some great speaker nominations come from the attendee suggestions.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 2:56 PM on January 26, 2012

So rather than tell me how awesome it it, tell me why. And if you think it is a crock, tell me why.

Some of it is awesome, some of it is boring. The reason why is that some people are interesting and some people are boring, but there is a lot of non-consensus about which is which, so any lecture series is going to have some talks that impress you and some that don't. I'm not sure what other kind of answer you could expect.
posted by escabeche at 7:23 PM on January 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've heard that false findings have been shared with audiences at TED talks, after these ideas were discredited by reputable scientists. There have been other ethical dilemmas. I don't have time to look up links right now, but if you Google "TED critique" or something like that you'll probably be able to find the right results.

I think any "big ideas" conference powered by charisma and crowd-pleasing is going to have some questionable thinking going on, and sometimes rigorous discipline is lacking where enthusiastic cross-disciplinarity is found. Still, I'm sure there's good and bad. Some people (like myself) are naturally skeptical of strongly emotionally-tinged intellectual "experiences," but I guess these conferences are about popular science/research and accessibility to a large degree. But, science reporting &c. has a bad rap for a reason, which is that sensationalism often does bad things to science, accuracy-wise. (I'm kind of cynical in the vein that "getting people to care" about something often means making a lot of sacrifices.) To be honest, idea-geekery is one of my pet peeves, because it often ends up being a lot of hot air. Ideas are cheap, talk is cheap. Research, writing, and time have a more substantial yield.

I've only watched a few TED talks, though, so take my opinions on TED specifically with a grain of salt.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:14 AM on January 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

My experience with TEDx has been that there can be a lot of interesting content/fascinating people but the format can be awkward for some.
Instead of Q & A sessions at the end of talks you have longer mingling sessions where you are encouraged to approach the speakers/discuss ideas with similarly minded people etc.
Works great for some but it does take away the ability to have a more in-depth structured discussion at the expense of keeping things snappier.
And speakers will be super busy during the mingling sessions so short of exchanging cards/having a chat you might not be able to get more out of them then and there.
It's definitely more about networking with others from the audience.
Another thing is that you are meant to be super-duper excited to be there and loads of people are but if you are the kind of person that doesn't react well to a wow-we're-so-lucky-to-be-here-and-already-feeling-inspired-are-you-inspired-yet-ARE-YOU?, then you might be overwhelmed.
And some people there will take themselves too seriously.
Having said all that - you come across interesting people and ideas, have loads of time to connect the dots (as one TEDx organiser likes to say) and there are far worse ways to spend a day.
posted by mkdirusername at 1:33 AM on January 27, 2012

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