Saturday, February 25, 2012

Heading to TED

I am about to leave for the TED conference.  You have probably watched some of the videos from previous TED conferences.  A TED  conference consists of back-to-back short talks (maximum of 18 minutes) interspersed with time to think about them and discuss them with other attendees.  

Well, more precisely, I will be at TEDActive.  Or, what I think of as LoserTED.  The real TED which Al Gore, Bill Gates, and Cameron Diaz attend is in Long Beach, California.  LoserTED is a smaller gathering (about 400 people) in Palm Springs, California which watches the TED talks via satellite.  It is at a cool, retro-50s, Rat-Pack-inspired hotel called the Riviera.  It is not exactly tough duty being at LoserTED.  

Mark and I have attended TED for about five years.  The conference for me is a challenging one.  In part it is because to get the most out of it, you need to meet and talk with the other attendees.  It really is an amazing group of people.  It is, however, a real strain for me to meet people.  I am much more comfortable sitting in the corner by myself.  That is where you will usually find me in any party or gathering of people I don’t know.  

The other part of TED which is a challenge for me is that the people in attendance and the ones speaking are generally from the Left.  Al Gore is a real hero to most of the attendees.  I’m not a big fan of labels, but I would generally be classified as an Evangelical Christian and Conservative.  In my circles, Al Gore is decidedly not a hero.  Consequently, the TED talks are ones I often have at least some level of disagreement with.  

I think the best example is Jill Bolte Taylor’s talk from 2008 which went viral on the Internet.  She is a compelling speaker who is a neuroscientist.  She told an incredible story of having a stroke while being able to observe it and understand what was happening, but have little ability to do anything about it.  I encourage you to watch it before reading further about how it was a challenge for me.  

At the end of that talk, she got a standing ovation.  At least in my memory, it was the most vigorous standing ovation of the conference.  I, however, was upset by her talk.  (Which, of course, Mark found fairly amusing.  I think he loves going to TED in part to watch my reaction to some of the talks.  Unfortunately, he will not be able to attend this year.)  Why was I upset?  At about 13 minutes or so into the talk, she gets increasingly metaphysical.  She uses phrases like, “I was no longer the choreographer of my life,” “my spirit surrendered,” and “my spirit soared free like a great whale.”  She found nirvana and thinks that everyone can find nirvana.  She said, “I am the life-force power of the universe.  I am the life-force power of the 50 trillion beautiful molecular geniuses that make up my form, at one with all that is.”   She believes that all of us can choose to experience that same peace.  

Obviously, she had an amazing experience.  However, she then went on to more or less invent a sort of religion.  This religion was one that the TED audience loved.  This religion only required that we choose the peace that is within us.  It was a great religion—we all just choose to get along and the world will be a better place.  For you and me.  Put a little love in your heart.  

My belief was that if I stood on the same stage and explained my belief in Christianity, I would have been booed off the stage.  She was applauded for inventing an easy, smarmy religion and I would have been jeered for extolling a religion believed in by millions or billions over thousands of years.  Admittedly, that was only my perspective.  I tend to feel a little persecuted at TED while in truth folks would probably be curious to hear about my beliefs.  

So, all that to say that I am on my way to a stimulating week of having to meet people and having my beliefs challenged.  In Palm Springs.  My goal is to write a blog entry each day of the conference starting on Tuesday.  If nothing else, it will give Mark something to be amused at from afar!


  1. Looking forward to being amused by your musings!

  2. It's funny... I watched that TED Talk when it was posted online and listened to a Radiolab podcast that was about the talk and I didn't really pick up on her metaphysical comments until you just mentioned it. But you're definitely right that it is sort of pseudo-religion, maybe kind of a buddhist look at things. It kind of makes me wonder if she was a Christian if she would have seen it differently. Maybe the "light" that people on their deathbed report to have seen.

    I'm probably going to have to attempt to ignore this blog until the post the talks online so I can watch them first. It makes me jealous that you get to hear all the cool talks before I do! One day when I grow up I hope to go to LoserTED as well.