TED Talks: performance art, not mere compressed learning

A perfect example of what I mean – Shane Koyczan: "To This Day" … for the bullied and beautiful:

And another that still resonates with me, long after the fact – Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight:

I’ve recently encountered the predictable yet still surprising backlash against TED Talks – backlash in the form of long rants by people I respect, but whose resistance and cynicism I can’t fully understand. Since I’m usually at the forefront of cynical distancing from something so popular, this exacerbated my naive shock and dismay.

I’m a convert to the TED phenomenon, and wonder every day when I still haven’t gotten around to watching more of them – because every time I do sit down for one, it makes me feel more a part of a global, expansive human experience, and gives a booster shot to my hope that there’s far more to life than drudgery, suffering and isolation.

[In response to complaints that TED Talks are simplistic, reductionist, and a one-way "conversation" to an incredibly privileged audience] I’ve been pleasantly surprised by many talks, and genuinely affected by a few. Privilege and reductionism aside, they’re still 20 minutes more I spend learning about a subject or having my perspective widened than I’d otherwise spend.

Further, I find a deep pool of irony in complaining about about TED’s short attention on Facebook.

[In response to concerns that a one-way compressed monologue doesn’t suit some people’s learning styles, and that the one-way nature and a subtle "attitude" embedded in it creeps some people out] I can easily accept that it isn’t suitable to how your brain learns – I know how much of a learning failure I am through books, and how well I assimilate and integrate new ideas through the Meetup approach. Which tells me that for me, Meetups or other forums where we get to have lectures where questions are welcome, plus loosely related discussions around it, are my ideal learning model.

Close second is the unconference like Agile Open Northwest – where we get to hear lots of 0-day thoughts shared by people who want a very barrier-free, interactive discussion on subjects that are just-proposed-today and are low risk (since they’re selected through vote-with-your-feet) so high-value subjects abound for nearly everyone. No "selection" (aka pre-screening) committees so no groupthink filters.

But still none of this invalidates the 20-minute, polished-and-scrubbed summary of decades worth of work or life. If you can’t convey one good idea in 20 minutes, I sure ain’t giving you an hour or a book’s worth of attention. Must be why reading long-form books or journal articles seems so excruciating to me now – instead of one thesis, it seems to grant license to jam in several loosely related thoughts.

Maybe it’s the talks I’ve seen and remember – speakers from whom I detect a subtle nervousness, a little extra humanity – not the supra-polished talks that look like they’ve been given a million times and couldn’t provide less of a connection to their audience if they were delivered from within a gameshow soundproof booth.

a little humanity from the king

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