Down the Rabbit Hole

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Blogosphere, Culture, Education, Idealism

I followed a link provided on someone’s blog recently and ended up lost down the rabbit hole watching a series of TED talks. Two are embedded below, each about 19 min. in duration, which isn’t especially long. The experience reminded me how the hyperlinked nature of the WorldWideWeb invites users to just keep clicking and keep linking and keep going, not so unlike an afternoon or evening spent watching TV without ever seeing anything worthwhile. Television programming is mostly a wasteland. I stopped watching more than a decade ago and don’t miss it at all. When I do come into contact with it now — not infrequently since TV is everywhere, like wallpaper — it looks positively insane to me. However, that judgment simply won’t make any logical sense to someone who hasn’t also established a period away from the boob tube and cleansed the mind of noise. Content found online is often just as inane as TV, though better quality stuff is not hard to find, either.

TED talks clearly aren’t noise, but after watching even a few, it surprises me how similar they have become. Science and technology used to be the primary focus, but subjects have strayed farther afield now that the organization has been around for a while. Speakers are uniformly excellent in front of audiences and speak extemporaneously, which is a superior way to present information if one can avoid losing one’s train of thought or forgetting what point comes next in sequence. (In the eight speeches I’ve given over the past decade or so, only my first was spoken from notes; each subsequent speech was read from a script I wrote so specific turns of phrase I wanted wouldn’t be lost.) TED talkers also pepper their presentations with jokes and asides, to which audiences respond more vociferously than to content. But what strikes me most is that the basic structure of TED talks is reporting on a discovery/new idea/endeavor that offers an opportunity for wholesale reevaluation of how one thinks the world (read: human culture) works and offers this newly ground lens for audiences to adopt, who may laugh through the jokes and asides and give a standing O at the conclusion but are nonetheless wholly unprepared after a mere 19 min. to embrace new paradigms.

Audiences appreciate the reportage, no doubt, and there seems to be no failure of innovative lenses through which to filter perceptions and activities. But there is something too cute to me about a stream of profound realizations from TED talkers that suggest a trend toward perfecting things if only we adjust our filters. My experience is that we have enough trouble just making modest, incremental improvements because adjustments turn into gaming for gain and profit once an idea reaches critical mass. Still, below the fold are two of the TED talks that captured my imagination, albeit briefly.

The first is Sanjit “Bunker” Roy speaking on his experience with Barefoot College:

The second is Kathryn Schulz speaking on being wrong:

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