In a recent TEDx talk, Benjamin Bratton delivered a spirited rebuke to the TED-talk culture, calling it “middlebrow megachurch infotainment”. These are sentiments that echo my own—indeed, I’ve often thought of TED talks as an idea equivalent of gummy bears. TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design and sports the motto “ideas worth spreading”, is a non-profit and puts together conferences with (allegedly) “the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers”
I’ve watched the occasional TED talk, finding it entertaining (with the occasional “great idea” moment), but I can’t say the anything I’ve seen has resonated with me so much that I wanted to spread the word (or at least forward the link). So, I wonder, why is that?
Well, one reason could certainly be the format, i.e. the videos themselves. Personally, I would much rather read a transcript than view the video—I’m the sort of person who probably won’t even watch a funny cat video if it’s longer than 1:32. So that is the “fault”2 of me, not TED.
But the second reason could be the simplicity of the videos, which can render those ideas within to be a form of pablum for grownups—fed to a stratified sample of the masses, who nod or applaud approvingly. Where is the complexity? Good ideas (and their implementations) require a discourse about them. TED talks lack intellectual depth, like much else in today’s culture, where many seem to be unable to comprehend anything longer than a tweet or a Facebook status update.
So, is it possible to have a more thoughtful (and longer!) versions of TED talks (and transcripts for those of us who still prefer the written word)—perhaps a series of TED debates? Will that roll in this sound bite culture or would it be doomed to fail?
2 “fault” is in quotes, because I do not consider a preference for reading compared to viewing to be a failing