Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Day 2 at TED

A typical TED day consists of four sessions of about one hour and forty-five minutes, a lunch constructed to encourage people to talk, and a party in the evening that also encourages conversation.  Each session has a theme of some sort.  For example, the first session today was called The Lab and was mostly about technology.  Other sessions today were The Earth (environment and nature), The Crowd (crowd sourcing), and The City (the TED Prize session).  The sessions consist of about four 18-minute talks, one or two musical acts, a few 3-minute talks, and some short videos. 

By the end of the day, I often find it hard to remember exactly what happened.  Things tend to mash together.  At the party (in Steve McQueen’s and two other houses overlooking the city), I was discussing the talks with someone and we were both having trouble remembering who said what.  He was a public speaking teacher at a university in Minnesota and described to me his favorite talk of the day.  I could not remember the talk at all, so I just nodded. 

I did finally figure out which talk he liked, but I had not been as impressed.  Similarly, at the beginning of the last session of the day I overheard the people behind me talk about how great the talks had been throughout the day.  All of that is a prelude to saying that I was largely disappointed in today’s talks.  In fact, I fell asleep during James Hansen’s talk on global warming.  T. Boone Pickens was not much better when talking about the need to get off foreign oil and move to natural gas.  Why are talks about energy inherently boring?  They even had an 18-minute musical on global warming.  At least I was able to get some email done. 

So, while there were a number of interesting talks like Regina Dugan, head of DARPA, talking about testing at Mach 20, Donald Sadoway, describing his grid-level storage batteries, and Karen Bass, nature filmmaker, showing amazing video clips such as a 2.5-inch long bat with a 3.5-inch long tongue getting nectar from a long flower.  The talk that sticks with me, however, was that of Frank Warren.  He told about how he started something called the PostSecret Project.  People send him homemade postcards that reveal a secret that they have never told anyone.  Weekly, Warren posts some of those postcards on the Web site.  During his talk, he showed a few of the postcards and gave some compelling stories that went with some of them.  Some were funny.  Some were touching.  And, some were heartrending.  He has been doing this for seven years and has received half a million postcards.  I felt incredibly sad at the thought of how much hurt and pain is in this world. 

The last session ended with an amazing gospel group from NYC called the Mama Foundation Gospel for Teens.  Their singing had most of the people in the Palm Springs audience up on their feet, clapping and dancing.   They sang songs like, Down by the Riverside and Let My People Go.  Despite their skill, I found it a bit hollow as they actually managed to never mention Jesus or God.  To me, it felt full of energy, but somehow empty.  That seems like a good metaphor for the day.  

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