Friday, March 20, 2015

TEDActive 2015 - Day 4

Today was the last full day of the conference. It was both a good day and a rather uneven day. The day included some of the weakest talks of the week as well as the best session. Here is a recap of some of the highlights. 

Sally Kohn wearing her "Choose Gay" T-shirt
The day started off with a session entitled TED You which consisted of speakers on our TEDActive stage. The talks were generally good, but one of them stuck with me. It was by Sally Kohn, a political commentator who has been on both Fox and CNN as well as other outlets. She wore a T-shirt that said "Choose Gay" and discussed the recent controversy around her Washington Post opinion piece where she said that she hoped her daughter would one day choose to be gay. That article earned her objections (and venom) from both the Left and the Right. At one point in her talk, she made a joke about Born Again Christians to the effect that the term showed they hadn't gotten it right originally. Which, of course, is the whole point. I spoke with her briefly afterwards and hoped to talk with her at more length later in the day. I wanted to understand her perspective on Christians better and maybe be one of the only Born Again Christians she had spoken with. Unfortunately, that never happened. Regardless, that kind of interaction is what I like about TEDActive. 

Monica Lewinsky describing her experiences as
a 24-year-old thrown to the media dogs
The next session's title was Just and Unjust and was just amazing. It started with Monica Lewinsky's talk. She described how as a 22-year old she made the mistake of falling in love with her boss. The point of the talk, however, was not about the mistake she made at 22, but what happened after that. She made the case that on a grand scale she became one of the first victims of cyberbullying. She decried the "culture of humiliation" that preyed on her and described how shame has become a profitable industry. The talk was well done, though longer than necessary, and made me think about what might be done to curtail the way the media and people react and humiliate people for whatever real or perceived transgressions they have done. 

Gary Haugen, a human rights lawyer, gave an excellent talk about his contention that the real problem people in poverty struggle with is not the lack of money, but being subject to violence. He contended that "most poor people live outside the protection of the law." He pointed to facts like spending in the third world for private security being as much as seven times the spending on public security (police and so on). His talk was compelling and constructive. As with many of the talks in this session, it left me wanting to do more, but somewhat at a loss about how to do so. 

Jeffrey Brown, a Baptist minister, told of how he and other ministers helped dramatically reduce violent crime in Boston by spending time being with the people inflicting the violence where they were rather than just trying to get them into churches. Alice Goffman told of her experiences living in inner city Philadelphia and the contrast between her education at Penn and the prison education of people in that neighborhood (either by going to prison or having to live their lives in fear of, and actively avoiding, going there). The session also included two excellent performances by Sarah Jones (where she portrays an array of different characters) and Clint Smith (a spoken word performance recounting how his parents had to raise him to keep him from being one of those children shot while carrying a water gun). The whole session caused me to give standing ovation after standing ovation. It was that kind of morning.  

There were other interesting talks later in the day, but none that grabbed me in the same way. Maybe I was just tired. 

The day's talks ended with one on infidelity by Esther Perel. While it sounded like it would be controversial, I didn't think it was. She avowed that she is not in favor of affairs, but as a therapist often must deal with the aftermath of them. She made a number of quotable points like, "Today we divorce not for unhappiness, but be cause we want to be happier." And, "Staying, not divorce, is the new shame." And, that people having an affair are often "not looking for another person, but another self." The talk is well worth listening to when it becomes available given the prevalence of the problem in our society. 

In an odd turn, I think the most religious thing of the day was said by Chris Anderson in introducing an aria from Handel's Messiah rather than by Rev. Brown or any of the other speakers. It was an interesting day. 

Proof that Mark and I speak with other people
The day was not over, however, as there was a Top of the Mountain party afterwards. We took gondolas up one of the ski slopes to a building at the top. While there has not been any snow on the ground in town, there was plenty up the mountain. The rides (both up and down) were quite beautiful and serene. Mark and I talked with the people in our gondola and then continued the conversation with a couple who organize a TEDx conference. We talked with them about Principled Technologies and the book we are working on and even how some day we would love to talk at TED about it. Hey, it is always good to dream! 

2015 Grammy award nominated Aloe Blacc
performing at the Top of the Mountain party
The evening ended with a short concert by Aloe Blacc. I was not familiar with his music and did not expect to like it as he had come from the world of rap. He sang, however, just accompanied by a guitar and I quite liked his music. It made for a pleasant end to a long day. 

On a housekeeping note, Joseph DeSimone's talk on faster 3D printing is now posted. They said during the day that they hoped to have Monica Lewinski's talk posted today. Tomorrow is a short day, so maybe I can begin to try and catch up on some needed rest. It has been a good week. 

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