January 23, 2009
Virginia Heffernan on the Pleasures of TED
Once you start watching TED talks, ordinary life falls away. The corridor from Silicon Alley to Valley seems to crackle, and a new in-crowd emerges: the one that loves Linux, organic produce, behavioral economics, transhistorical theories and “An Inconvenient Truth.” Even though there are certain TED poses that I don’t warm to — the dour atheist, the environmental scold — the crowd as a whole glows with charisma. I love their greed for hope, their confidence in ingenuity, their organized but goofy ways of talking and thinking.
This is just for Robin:
I have seen about 40. Let me say straight up that one of my favorites is “Simplicity Patterns,” by the designer John Maeda. His talk made clear to me the uncanny resemblance between a block of tofu (the kind Maeda grew up making in his family’s business in Seattle) and the I. M. Pei building that houses the M.I.T. Media Lab (where Maeda, who is now the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, used to work). Almost haphazardly associative, Maeda’s talk expresses respect for the mandate of the talks — to change the world — without becoming sententious. You get rapid, straight-to-the-bloodstream access to his mental life.
And I don’t know what to say about this:
The other talk that does this poetically is Jill Bolte Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight.” A brain scientist who studied the way she lost her own faculties during and after she suffered a stroke, Taylor urges the audience to pay attention to the sybaritic, present-tense right brain. Repeatedly, she recalls the pleasurable aspects of her stroke with such sensory precision that she seems to enter a rapturous trance. Not only do I buy her case for unfettered right-brain experience, but I began scheming to unfetter my right brain then and there.