Friday, March 1, 2013

TEDActive 2013 – Day 3

Day 3 of TED was not as mentally challenging as Day 2 was, but there were plenty of interesting talks, some strange ones, an infuriating one, and a couple that really touched my heart.

The interesting talks included one by John McWhorter, another Columbia professor. He explained his view that texting is not the death of writing. Instead, texting is not writing at all, but rather fingered speech. Adam Spencer is an Australian radio host and mathematician who talked compellingly about large prime numbers. Ben Affleck spoke of his work in the Congo and introduced a Congolese string orchestra.

James Lyne, a cyber-security expert told of tracking down some malware developers. He also explained how vulnerable we all are and even showed some telling information he was able to gather about the TED attendees in Long Beach just through their WiFi connection information. Though nothing he said was a big surprise to me, it did make me think about some steps I should take to try and be more secure. His final point was probably the most important—don’t be an easy target.

Anas Aremeyaw Anas (an alias) spoke of his undercover journalism work in Ghana. By going undercover, he had exposed things from government scandals to sex trafficking to prison conditions to the trade in human albino body parts. Because of the danger, he wore a mask through his talk to try and protect his identity. His courage was inspiring.

One strange presentation was that of Liu Bolin. He is a camouflage artist who paints his clothing and himself to blend in with things like store shelves, buildings and even TV studio sets. While the many photos and descriptions where interesting, I kept wondering why he had been doing the same thing for so many years. I guess I am not very good at understanding art! 

One of the strangest talks was by four people, Diana Reiss, Peter Gabriel, Neil Gershenfeld and Vint Cerf. They spoke about implementing an inter-species Internet. I think there are probably a few more important things to put our resources into! That talk was followed by an even stranger one where Eleanor Longden told her story of mental illness and how she had come to terms with the voices in her head. Amazingly, there is an organization, InterVoice for just this issue. I don’t want to belittle her situation, but it did make for a strange progression of talks.

The infuriating talk was by Christopher Ryan on human sexuality. He contended that humans evolved to have multiple partners. He spent lots of time giving his reasons for this. While his research was somewhat interesting, I kept trying to figure out what was his point. If someone shows that we evolved to kill each other, would that make murder right? The host, Chris Anderson, basically asked him that question. Ryan insisted that was not his point, but instead that we should be understanding of people’s promiscuity or at least their desires in that direction. My view is that we want to do all sorts of things we should not do. Blaming those things on evolution doesn’t change that they are wrong.

The first of the two heart-wrenching ones was Hyeonseo Lee's compelling story of her escape from North Korea. She told how later she helped her parents escape as well. The long journey to South Korea seemingly ended unsuccessfully with her parents in jail in Laos and she with no money to get them out. A stranger, however, saw her crying, asked what the problem was, went to the ATM and gave her enough money to free her parents. As someone later said to me, it was a God thing that someone showed up with the money she needed to get her parents out of jail. Indeed, it was hard to not see God’s hand. Her story was one that demanded a standing ovation and brought me to the verge of tears.

Despite the power of her story, it was not one that I could relate to. The next presenter, Shane Koyczan, however hit me much closer to home. He was a spoken word poet and performed his story of being the fat, outcast nerd. He weaved into that the stories of other outcasts. He did a entrancing job of telling those stories and again brought me to my feet and the verge of tears. When I was talking with someone later in the evening about the talk, I said that it had struck a chord with me because I felt like I had experienced what he was describing. The person responded that she had felt similar rejection for different reasons and that probably everyone had similar experiences. She was right. Koyczan had hit a universal chord with his performance.

My evening conversation reinforced that TEDActive is about more than just the TED talks. I managed to exceed my goal of meeting three people. I met two people at lunch, but then met four very interesting people (Kate, Marla, Ken, and Caren) in the evening. The conversations again confirmed the interpersonal value of TEDActive. 

It was another good day at TEDActive. 

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