Everyone has a pedestal. Some, however, situate themselves on ornate ones rightfully reserved for the busts of Roman emperors. The worst offenders are the individuals who make up what social and economic theorist Richard Florida describes as the creative class, a sector of the workforce consisting of highly-educated individuals whose professions rely primarily on intellectual capital. Others would describe the creative core of society as consisting of pretentious elitists who get paid to think, rather than do. They sit in their armchairs, sip their wine glasses, and think of new ways to spout out old ideas.
TED, a nonprofit foundation built on the premise of spreading great ideas, goes so boldly as to make an art form out of it. Numerous editorial columns and blogs have verbally assailed the organization for treating every idea like some sort of revolutionary awakening to the digital age. Critics note that TED’s ideas have been “bottled, packaged, and sold back to us over and over again” for $7500 a pop (the price of admission to one of its conferences). Over the course of a 1000+ talks, the reputation of TED has “become an insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering.” Those critical of the direction with which TED has gone lay claim to the notion that the nonprofit foundation has strayed from its primary goal of changing the world by fostering the spread of great ideas. To thinkers who have spent their lives worshipping creative genius, TED has desecrated the sanctity of creativity by selling empty ideas at their conferences.
Eleanor Roosevelt must be rolling over in her grave at the thought of these brilliant minds going to waste. “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people,” she said. Unfortunately to these commentators, the visionaries, thinkers, scholars, and industry leaders of TED have been reduced to the likes of charlatans in their hackneyed attempts to change the world with “flimsy ideas and half-formed academic theories.” Simply put, TED talks have become filled with meaningless verbiage.
I beg to differ.
Far from being ill-contrived, TED was conceived as a forum for innovative thinking in the realms of technology, entertainment, and design. Since its founding in the late 80s, topics of discussion have spanned the entire gamut of intellectual conversation. To this day, the foundation remains a prestigious think tank for creative genius and innovative thought. TED collects and disseminates ideas and creates a platform for creative and intellectual discussion.
Pundits missed the point of TED entirely. TED functions as a medium for curiosity, as the ultimate knowledge broker for speakers, audiences, and any curious souls who stumble across a TED talk.
In classic TED form, speaker Sebastian Wernicke humorously and subtly addresses commentators’ criticisms in his summary of 1000 TED talks.
“Why the worry? I’d rather wonder,” he concludes.
Make no mistake. Wernicke does successfully commoditize intellectual capital in a way that gives truth to pundits’ claims. He gives concrete proof to the notion that TED sold its creative soul to capitalism at the bargain price of $99.50 per thousand talks. At that rate, the value of each talk is worth no more than ten cents apiece. His talk serves as a humorous and economic approach to addressing the criticism directed at TED.
With the same six words that summarize 1000 talks, though, he effectively destroys the basis of commentators’ entire argument. His conclusion speaks to the heart of TED’s purpose. The amount of brain fodder available on ted.com is meant to be delightfully overwhelming because TED is the impetus behind change, not the change itself. It serves as the momentum of a moving body, not the cause of its motion. It’s up to the curious souls with their head in the clouds and their feet on the ground to change the world. Watch a few TED talks and wonder some more, please.
By: Dy Phi