The full impact of TED will not be realized until weeks and even months from now. A presentation continues to resonate and have meaning; a chance encounter leads to a valued relationship; a moment of meditation leads to inner discovery and radical life alterations; a commitment to a cause or initiative alters the world in some small or even major way.
So this perspective represents only a top of mind overview of my TED 2008 experience. All the presentations will soon be available at www.TED.com.
Admittedly, I struggled to comprehend the heavily scientific concepts introduced by presenters like particle physicist Patricia Burchat, who shared insights on why the expansion of space is accelerating. Apparently, dark energy causes space to expand, while dark matter attracts stars into structured clusters. It's actually fun to try to discover parallels to my media universe. The media space is also expanding and there is an unknown force that is pulling sites and consumers into structures and clusters, such as social and vertical networks. And of course, there is a dark energy that competes with dark matter and dissipates the stars and clusters… and sites and consumers. Understanding these unseen dark forces is essential in physics and in our business.
In a TEDUniversity class prior to the official start of the conference, Rice University professor Scott Cutler suggested that by 2013, hard drive storage capability will enable DVRs to continuously store ten TV channels 24/7 for two weeks, and in the foreseeable future they will be storing 100 channels for a full year. I understand that, as I understand designer Yves Béhar's suggestion that "advertising is the price we pay for being unoriginal."
Understanding neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor was not a challenge and listening to her extraordinary life story was by far one of TED's most electrifying moments. She opened her 18-minute segment by bringing a real human brain on stage, holding it up like Hamlet holding poor Yorick's skull. Still dripping a spinal cord, the brain showcased Taylor's analysis of right vs. left brain differentiation, which she experienced first hand when she had a major stroke and lost all left brain functionality.
"The right brain," she pointed out, is a parallel processor that focuses on the present moment -- right now, right here. It's a collage of present sounds, tastes, feelings, smells and touch." The left brain is comparable to a computer serial processor, explained Taylor. "It is linear and methodical, about the past and future. It picks details from the collage, categorizing and associating them with the past and projecting them into the future. Disconnect the left brain and you are disconnected from the "brain chatter that connects you to the world."
When Taylor experienced her stroke and progressively lost left brain activity, it was, she said, "so cool. It was like being a genie liberated from the bottle… nirvana." As a dedicated neuron-scientist, Taylor was uniquely able to study her own stroke from the inside out. "It was like I purposely chose to step to the right of my brain, and I thought I could not squeeze the enormousness of my spirit back into my body."
Taylor came very close to dying and it took her eight years to recover and regain her left brain functionality. "We are each a life force," she closed. "We have the power to choose who we are in the universe." (www.drjilltaylor.com)
Brain activity was a consistent theme of my TED. Taylor's detailed insights were relevant background for an explanation of yogic breathing techniques developed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who also led early morning meditation sessions. Human development leader Tony Robbins and his wife Sage invited several TEDsters to experience a new meditation technique called the Oneness Blessing that bridges brain lobes and fosters connections to both internal and external universes. Some very serious and scientific left brain TEDsters as well as right brain centered participants like me, shared a new experience that opened almost all of us to a new vista.
Anthropologist Wade Davis, who connected us to indigenous cultures around the globe, commented on meditation: "Tibetan monks don't believe we have gone to the moon, but we have. We don't believe they have achieved enlightenment, but they have."
TED Nugget Origami may some day save a life! In an exceptional demonstration, origami artist Robert J. Lang explained that origami designs are being used to design heart stents and spaceship parts.
Changing the subject back to a view of the universe, Microsoft unveiled at TED its new Worldwide Telescope developed by Curtis Wong. Microsoft's Roy Gould suggested the telescope "will change the way we see ourselves in and the way we teach about the universe." The Worldwide Telescope enables you to tour the universe online "with astronomers at your side who can make the universe a welcoming space. When we look at the night sky our common reaction is how insignificant we are. We may be tiny but the Worldwide Telescope shows we are truly significant." (www.worldwidetelescope.org)
TED Nugget: Did you know breast augmentation surgery is becoming the most popular high school graduation gift for girls?
TED 2008 focused on "The Big Questions." "The power to question is the basis of all human progress," said Indira Gandi. Responding to the question "what is life," genetics pioneer Craig Venter (he sequenced the human genome and is now working to create the first synthetic life forms) described the effort to discover vaccines in advance of major new diseases, "which would change the course of human life." Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin shared insights into the drive, spirit and will of Abraham Lincoln; the humanity of Lyndon Johnson; and into her passion for baseball and the Boston Red Sox.
Novelist Amy Tan told me privately she had her own "right brain/left brain" experience when she contracted Lyme disease and suffered periods when she felt her creativity and abilities were significantly altered. Her warm and highly personal story on "how we create" suggested a "string theory of creativity."
There were more "TED Moments" this year than at recent TED Conferences. One of my favorite TED Moments was magic David Blaine shared with NBCU's Beth Comstock, Conde Nast's Ronda Carnegie and me. I initialed a quarter with a marker and placed it directly into Ronda's hand. Beth and I then cupped our hands around Ronda's while Blaine waved his hand over ours, never touching. Ronda then opened her hand and the same quarter I initialed was bent at an almost 90 degree angle. Blaine signed the quarter for me and then did several more impossible tricks. It's almost an insult to call them tricks. They are closer to miracles, although at TED we are exposed to true miracles of humanity, personified by almost everyone's greatest TED Moment, the "concerto" performed by cerebral palsy patient Dan Elsey (www.jackmyers.com).
Boston Philharmonic conductor Benjamin Zander brought 1,500 people in Monterey and Aspen to their feet, all singling Beethoven's Ninth Symphony Ode to Joy passionately, at the top of our lungs in German. Ode to Joy was played at Tiananmen Square and when the Berlin Wall fell. It is music that has the power to transform. It's impossible to describe the energy Zander infused the audience with at 7 PM on Friday after three very long days and nearly 100 presentations. Zander asked "who are we being as we go back into this world? Are we making peoples' eyes shine? Who are we being if the eyes of those around us are not shining?" Words that have the power to transform. Zander would have hugged every audience member if he could have, but everyone's eyes were shining. Zander also argued "if people don't do what you want them to do, you must apologize to them because you didn't enroll them.
Another TED moment was the return of TED founder Richard Saul Wurman for the first time since he sold the conference to Chris Anderson, who has significantly altered the content and dynamics, but retained the core attributes that make TED different from all other gatherings. TED is now a non-profit organization and is focused heavily on the world's problems and how to solve them. TED has also refocused from its foundation of "Technology," "Entertainment" and "Design," and now has more emphasis on life sciences, anthropology, physics, health and global issues.
The audience has also more than doubled since the Wurman era, with 300 people watching through a simulcast from the Monterey Conference Center at the Aspen Institute. Not only has the audience doubled, but the normal Silicon Valley, educational and scientific communities have been supplemented by more members from the Hollywood and media communities. A decade ago, I was one of less than a dozen media industry executives. This year, I estimate between 60 and 80 familiar names from the media, advertising and marketing worlds attended. I've been naming several of them in my daily posts at JackMyers.com.
Other TED moments: Economist Paul Collier: "We need compassion to get started and enlightened self interest to get serious" about the poorest people in the world.
Former Vice President and environmental activist Al Gore: "We need a global Marshall Plan. Increased pollution everywhere is a threat. Our pattern of consumption has morphed into over consumption as an engine for economic growth worldwide. What will replace that engine?"
….The Polar Ice Cap could disappear completely in the summer in as little as five years.
….Why are there no questions being asked about climate control to the presidential candidates. NBC has posed 956 questions, only two about environment; ABC has asked 844 questions, only two about climate; Fox News and CNN, more than 400 questions each, and only two about climate. CBS has asked 319 questions but none about climate.
…"We have a culture of distraction and need to find a way to create a generational sense of mission."
… "We need to rise to the challenge that history is presenting to us."
In closing TED, musician and activist Bob Geldof asked if we noticed the presidential debates have been sponsored by Clear Coal, offering "now even lower emissions." Speaking of his support for the African continent, Geldof said "the richness and fullness of dialog has not laid the foundation for boldness of initiative that is needed. This challenge is part of the fabric of civilization. Changing our patterns requires scope, scale and speed of initiative." He quoted an African proverb: "'If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.' We need to go far quickly," he stressed.
Geldof could have been speaking about all of the many ideas, initiatives and compelling opportunities that were presented at TED 2008. You can view the full spectrum of TED presentation, as well as previous years' presentations, free at www.TED.com .
Click below to read all of Jack's commentaries from TED
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