A while back, my husband decided it was worth $10 a month for us to have Netflix. Not because we could have DVDs sent to us in the mail, but because we could watch streaming video through our XBox. Once we got up and running, my husband took to spending hours at a time (usually after everyone else had gone to sleep) combing through the online catalog of titles available to stream instantly. Quite soon we had an instant queue with over 200 titles. That didn’t include the “Suggested Titles” in the various genre categories that we could also choose from.
In looking at the various titles my husband had chosen to add to our queue, I began to notice a penchant for documentaries. And not just your run of the mill documentaries. Weird documentaries. He had one all about how people surgically alter their bodies to extreme extents. The plot to assassinate Hitler. The history of stupidity. The development and use of the Helvetica typeface. The tiny division of hip-hop known as “nerdcore”. (For the record, I am NOT making any of these up. As of this writing, all of these – with the exception of the body mod one – are still currently on our list.) Anyway, in and amongst these odd documentaries was something called “The Future We Will Create: Inside the world of TED”. You may be thinking, Who is TED? TED is not a who, but a what. It stands for Technology Entertainment Design, and it is an annual invitation-only conference held in California. Over the course of four days, guest speakers get 18 minutes to present what they are doing or what they would like to do, and why it should interest us. Speakers include leading scientists, philosophers, entertainment industry leaders, and performers. At the end of the conference, the TED Prizes are announced. Each prize winner is allowed to present to the the assembly a wish – what they would like to see happen that will make the world a better place.
On the surface, it all sounds very high-brow, until you take a closer look. These people are very serious about what they are doing and are presenting simple ideas in a user-friendly format that can make life better for us all. When the prize winners announce their wishes, the entire group of attendees leave TED with only one goal in mind – make it happen. Entrepreneurs, scientists, entertainers, designers, with all their contacts and all their venture capital, spend the next year doing what they can to help make the prizewinner’s wish a reality. Past winners include Bono, Bill Clinton, and Jamie Oliver, among others. And ideas and innovations presented at TED have changed the world. In the documentary, you can see the design originator presenting what has since become the CNN Magic Board – the giant touch-screen interactive computer interface that they used quite effectively during our last presidential election.
TED is not only about learning and expanding a person’s mind to be able to “think outside the box.” TED is a lot of fun, as well. The further I got into the documentary, the more I found myself thinking, “It would be SO COOL to be able to attend one of these conferences.” Luckily for all of us, TED thinks the same thing, and they have created a website that you could spend all day in, searching for different talks on any one of a thousand topics. TED has also expanded since its inception as a small gathering in 1984 to an international organization, hosting conferences here and abroad, and simulcasting conferences to “satellite” conference locations and online.
If you would like to be inspired, educated, amazed, informed, entertained, empowered, or otherwise enlightened, drop by ted.com.
P.S. Vilayanur Ramachandran is a genius. Look him up.