Before the Internet, if you wanted to attend a lecture given by a world-renown scientist, business mogul, or performer, you had to be enrolled in a University or in possession of a costly pair of tickets for admission. Now, thanks to TED talks, all you need is a computer and about twenty minutes. The private non-profit, TED (Technology, Education and Design) challenges a wide range of speakers (ranging from Jane Goodall and E.O. Wilson to Bill Gates and J.J. Abrams) to present their work or thesis in 18 minutes or less. This brief format creates engaging, creative presentations that cut to the core of what the lecturer has to say and introduces millions of viewers to ideas that they may have never otherwise been exposed to.
Launched in 2007 by the Sapling Foundation, TED now offers over 900 talks that are available for free online, taking advantage of a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license. The organization believes that ideas shape and transform our world, and that this information should be accessible to all of those who seek to enlighten themselves. Under the slogan of “ideas worth spreading”, TED supports a number of different programs including annual simulcast conferences in Palm Springs, a yearly gathering in the UK, discussion forums, open translation projects that subtitle materials for non-English speakers, fellowships, a blog, smaller scale community-based lectures, and themed symposiums around the globe.
Now, for a note of sobriety; TED has some major big business backers. How do they influence the selection of guests, if at all? Some companies have used the organization as a platform to express their interests, such as a talk that posited the idea that big brands could possibly save biodiversity by becoming sustainable (See Jason Clay, president of the World Wildlife Federation). Some participants of the discussion boards have noted representatives of larger corporations jotting down one or two of their own ideas in favor of their agendas. Can this be considered just the normal occurrence of an open forum or unfair advantage? For those of you familiar with TED, have you ever come across material that you would consider in favor or a major sponsor?
In the opinion of this self-proclaimed Student For Life, TED is as close as it gets to a good college lecture. While the talks may not be as long as I would like on some subjects (what? you mean we can’t spend three hours discussing fungi?) the material is nearly always fascinating and the speakers engrossing. Discussions on the boards are generally informed and intelligent, and although they may not replace the human interaction that a university setting would provide, they are a wonderful way to do what TED has set out to achieve: share ideas and form connections with minds across national and cultural boundaries.
Do you have any favorite TED talks? Who would you like to see speak? If given the chance, what would you talk about?