Rediscovering TED Talks

Pamela Chan,

When I first discovered TED talks online, I used to watch them a lot. In the last few months – perhaps even well over a year – I’ve forgotten about them. This is partly because I have a professional obsession, in a way, with the concept of “try it on Monday” and hopefully the Monday after that, and the one after that….  If I choose to commit to investigating an idea, I’m really going to try it out and attempt to incorporate it into my practice.  Getting excited about concepts – especially in relation to the world of education – is a waste of my intellectual and emotional energy if I watch a video about a topic and then forget about it.  I incorporated my understandings from learning about Reggio Emilia schools as I taught (worked as a directress) in a Montessori classroom. More recently, I watched a video about outdoor preschools in Norway about two years ago and I’ve been investigating and experiencing the concept ever since.

Lately I’ve been more captivated by the scope and scale of PechaKucha 20 x 20 talks.  I haven’t had a chance to attend either a Vancouver or Coquitlam based PechaKucha talk, but I’m hopeful that chance will come soon.  Until then I make do by listening to talks and watching slideshows online. In particular I want to attend a Coquitlam event because these talks are rooted in the community where the presenters live.  I regret that the programme of PechaKucha talks started in Tokyo after I returned to Canada.  In total I’ve spent a decade living in the Tokyo area and was always very proficient about knowing what “hot” events were going on.  I would have attended the Tokyo-based talks from the beginning.  Looking at photos from the events in Tokyo, I realized that even though there are two local PechaKucha event series,  the opportunity to attend talks where attendees and speakers are mixed together will not be possible.  It seems the events in the Lower Mainland take place in venues where you sit in the audience and the presenter stands on stage.  Eeee – so TED talkish.  This aspect makes my heart sink a little. Still, I applaud the egalitarian and intimate approach of PechaKucha evenings, and the idea that the presentations are by people like you and me.  (I should mention that you could say the same about TED X talks, for example.) I might never make a Top ?  under Age ? list, win an important prize or publish a book but there is still a possibility that one day I too could give a PechaKucha presentation.

When TED 2014 came to Vancouver, I was surprised when I didn’t see any chatter about the conference on my Twitter feed or social media.  The only mention I saw was about where you could see the talks streaming live.  I did see one post where a local blogger had a chance to sit in on an interview.  Otherwise there was silence. (Here’s an infographic about what happened over five days at TED’14.)  I realize that this was the first time that the main TED talks event took place outside of California.  If TED talks are all about sharing great ideas worth spreading, shouldn’t there be a lot of communication and sharing taking place around the exciting process of sharing ideas?  The line-up of speakers in Vancouver appearing in person (or over the Internet) certainly was exciting.

A few months ago I noticed a video of a TEDx talk given by a youngster.  A few weeks later I saw that a link to the video was being shared on social media by some of my friends. I was intrigued by the topic the speaker discussed as my children and I have been taking part in outdoor education opportunities and I’ve been meeting more families who home school their children.  I couldn’t help noticing, while watching the talk, that the youngster appeared to have taken on some body language and presentation characteristics that I’d seen in other TED talks.  He admitted that he’d watched a lot of TED talks over the years and seemed to have mastered the presentation format. I thought that perhaps I was imagining that there is a formula until I watched another TED talk presented by a teenager and there it was again – that way of talking.  That way of moving about on the stage.  That way of sharing significant thoughts and ideas worth sharing.  I wondered if the people who felt inspired after watching the talk took the time to learn more about the ideas that the presenter shared.  Did they watch the video and forget about it or did the video compel them to investigate further?  How can you write “how inspiring” under a video link and then forget about the topic? Afterwards I felt even more cynical about the talks and guilty about feeling grumpy about them when everyone else is feeling so inspired.

Despite feeling this way, I found myself being seduced by Andrew Solomon’s heartfelt talk about unconditional love.  I took the unusual step of reading the transcript from his talk rather than watching the video.  I didn’t want to be distracted by anything.  Not the presentation style.  Not the body language. Not the pregnant pauses.  I just wanted to read the ideas, pause and reflect on my own terms.

It turns out that this talk is a thoughtful discussion of a parent’s love for his or her child and differences that exist in families between parents and their children.  By the time Solomon talks about putting his newborn through medical tests, I was feeling pretty winded.  Both of my twins visited a number of hospital departments during the first weeks and months in their baby years.  We received “the talk” when one of our twins was a few days old and also felt our world view change.  I felt that I would do everything I could to support and defend my child’s right to develop to full potential.  Many families go through the same experience and more.  Solomon’s talk hits deep and it’s a good reminder to me that there are – of course – so many important topics being addressed in TED presentations.  Not all of them need to be tried on Monday.

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Far From the Tree, by Andrew Solomon*

Review of Far from the Tree

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