I have just returned from a week at TEDActive, the event held in parallel with the annual TED Conference. It features a live simulcast of the conference in beautiful Whistler, and tends to attract the doers of TED’s community — people from around the world who create ripple effects from the ideas shared at TED.
The theme for this year’s TED conference was Truth and Dare, and we certainly heard many uncomfortable truths and were dared to address many difficult issues. For me, three talks in particular made me think hard, reassess previously held beliefs and motivated me to do something.
The first is the much discussed talk by Monica Lewinsky, the infamous intern who had an affair with the President. She talked eloquently about the personal toll the public shaming took on her life – which was to all intents and purposes ended at the age of 22 – and the insidious power of social media, inflicting grave harm on increasing numbers of people particularly the young. She called on the audience to think about the human behind the online person being subject to public humiliation, and the impact such vitriol can have on individuals and their families.
Anand Giridharadas told a powerful tale of two Americas, which turned many assumptions upside down. Ten days after 9/11, a white supremacist entered a mini mart run by a recent immigrant, vowing revenge. What happened next was sickening and then ultimately uplifting. Giridharadas forces us to consider the uncomfortable truth that America is now divided between those who make it and achieve their American Dream, and those, despite being born with all the advantages of being American, fail to thrive.
David Eagleman’s fascinating talk challenges everything we have ever believed about human sense. He makes the case that “our experience of reality is constrained by our biology.” He has been working on new interfaces such as a sensory vest – demonstrated on the TED stage – that will allow humans to take in previously unseen information about the world. Not being a scientist, I am always dazzled and often bewildered by the science talks at TED – David’s talk managed to make some very complex topics accessible to all.
A week at TED is mentally and physically challenging, but I leave every year with a feeling of profound awe for the human spirit, and excitement for everything we are still to achieve as a species.