One of the things that is hard to convey to folks is how overwhelming a day at TED can be. A session is basically six to ten TED talks back to back. They are not equally good, of course, but all of them have been well prepared and the differences between talks in terms of subject matter and emotional tone can be stark. For example, today a talk by a 24-year-old, African-American, hip-hop artist (Cordae) giving life advice using what he called the "Hi Level Mindset" was followed immediately by an American, septuagenarian Jew (Georgette Bennet) quoting Leviticus to explain her rationale for her work getting millions of dollars of needed humanitarian aid to Syria via the Golan Heights in Israel. Trying to keep up can be a real strain. It is worth the effort, but at the end of the day it is hard to not be exhausted. Of course, getting up early in the morning to write up what happened the previous day doesn't help!
One of the things that has provided a respite over the last few years has been the Christian believers' breakfast organized by Chris Evans (with ice on his knee in this photo). He is coincidentally from Raleigh, NC and someone I've known for over 30 years. This morning, about eight of us enjoyed coffee and pastries while a storm rolled in over the mountains and bay. We shared about our lives, prayed for each other, and generally hung out together as brothers and sisters in Christ. One of the attendees, an African-American TED Fellow who I remembered speaking at the previous TED, said that as Christians, we were her true brothers and sisters. I was buoyed by that thought throughout the day. Thank you Chris for organizing this gathering again this year! This morning, like the previous ones, there were a handful of protestors in front of the convention center. It was hard to know whether they were actually protesting against TED, some of the speakers like Bill Gates, or just using the conference to be heard. I took one of their flyers which advocated the arrest of the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau for treason. I fondly remember the days when folks just advocated for voting out of office the politicians they didn't like rather than trying to have them arrested. Ah, the good old days.
The title for the first session of the day was Vision. This was the session with the talks by Cordae and Georgette Bennet that I briefly described earlier. It started off with a space theme including John Mather on the Webb space telescope, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein on dark matter and energy, and Jennifer Heldman from NASA on SpaceX's Starship. The session ended with Safi Rauf describing his recent 105 days in captivity in Afghanistan. He pleaded for his native country and the suffering there to not be forgotten in the wake of the current invasion of Ukraine.
The next session's title was Wellbeing. It began with Bill Gates talking about how to avoid the next pandemic. He spoke at TED in 2014 on how we were not prepared for the next pandemic. He said that the talk was very popular, but unfortunately, 90% of the views came after the start of the COVID pandemic. He advocated for a permanent agency, reporting to the WHO, that is constantly on standby like firefighters. Hopefully, some of his ideas will be put in place in the near future. When asked after his talk about the wild claims about him and COVID vaccines by some folks, Gates quipped, "If the vaccines include microchips, what am I supposed to do with all that location info?" Sadly, I'm sure protestors will try to use that in some way to prove their contentions.
The final talk of the session was by NPR's Shankar Vedantam who starting by saying that he would like to be thought of as "the speaker for whom Bill Gates opened." Vedantam gave a very thought-provoking talk on the changes in ourselves over time. He told the story of John and Stephanie Rinka. They were a couple that talked about end of life issues regularly during their marriage and she said that if she ever got to the point of being ill and trapped in her body, she would rather be shot than continue to live. When she became ill with ALS and actually reached that point, however, she chose to be put on a ventilator and prolong her life. That led Vedantam to the question of how can the current version of ourselves make decisions for the versions to come.
The last session of the day was titled Play. The first speaker was Catherine Price who talked about importance of fun. She argued that fun comes at the intersection of playfulness, connection, and flow. She said, "Fun is the secret to being alive." I have to admit that I probably need to put having fun as a higher priority in my life!
The session ended with the over-the-top personality of Alexis Nikole Nelson, a self-described vegan food forager. She was fun to listen to, but hardly convincing. I'm neither ready to be vegan or forage for my food in the backyard. We got to sample the seaweed snacks she made during her presentation and they were not something I plan to ever eat again!