Tag: technology

My very first TED conference

Over the past few months, I’ve started multiple drafts to explain why I joined TED and how much I value the organization’s mission, but never had time to finish writing a complete post. Suddenly, it’s already a year later, and here I am after attending my first TED conference ever.

I am fascinated by how connections happen via technology and art, and I’ve always been inspired by TED’s work to spread important and beautiful ideas around the world. TED is headquartered in New York City, and as a company it is over 200 people small. It’s daunting how quickly we have grown, and there are always whispers of cultural change within any rapidly-growing organization. But what I see is opportunity: we all joined TED because we believe in the possibility of ideas to change an individual, an organization, a world.

Being present at TED2017 last week was a thrilling journey. Over 1900 people attended this year. I love being a part of TED’s tech team (read about some of our mobile app work, how we stay connected as a distributed team, and how we use technology for concierge-style communication and support). I posted up at my daily shifts at the built-by-TED-tech-team TED logo booth. When approached for suggestions, I dutifully gave multiple options for the best poses (see below). “Very applicable,” responded the 6’2″ guy when I said that some people like to pose in the space between the T and the E. “So easy,” said the group when I jokingly suggested yoga poses or the splits while J. photobombed me. Nothing is impossible, you know.

I was lucky enough to see (and be a part of) all the work and sweat and tears that went into the preparation for the conference. Sometimes the dialogue that happens at these types of conferences and events that have been happening for over a decade goes something like this: “Oh, I remember ten years ago when the conference was better because _____ and _____ and _____.” Often people like to reminisce about the good old days: when things were not “overproduced” and maybe therefore more authentic. While it is certainly true that things at TED have evolved and inevitable that things will be different from year to year, I can only speak from my own little tiny perspective of someone attending for the first time.

A recurring thought that many conference attendees shared with me: everyone felt that the people attending the conference were open, honest, and non-judgmental. While I was working all week and did not have a chance to attend all of the sessions, just being in the presence of the energy of ideas made me feel more optimistic about the future. Elon Musk closed his interview with: “I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior. I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.” We need to save our planet, we need to build a future we want the next generation to be proud of.

As I walked the Vancouver Convention Center’s outer loop hundreds of times, I was amazed by the surprise and delight that occurred throughout the week (including watching sessions from a huge jungle gym, handing out (and eating) handmade maple bacon chocolate bars, becoming a Ghostbuster in virtual reality, and meditating in a dome). Thousands of people were coordinating behind the scenes to put together all the complex parts of a huge event. There were mistakes, there were victories, there was progress and improvement. Now, with sore feet from walking that aforementioned loop so many times, I am humbled and honored to have been able to be part of the ripple that touches (and changes) people’s lives. I am painfully aware that at this point, TED talks can often incite eye rolls or quips about pithy statements. But also, I am impressed at the great impact an organization or person can have on the world, as exemplified by TED Prize Winner Raj Panjabi’s talk about his mission to bring healthcare to remote communities. We have come a long way and we still have a lot of work to do — but still I can’t deny the power I felt from being a part of the conversation around difficult yet poetic, concerning yet action-oriented, diverse and artistic, hopeful ideas. Our world is filled with so much tragedy and beauty at the same time — Anne Lamott reminded us that life is “filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.”

So how can we be better? How can we remind ourselves that we’re all connected? How can we use technology for good? How can we work together to save the world? Even finding just a tiny glimpse into the answers is a pretty good start. Pithy, I know.

“People are mistaken when they think that technology just automatically improves. It does not automatically improve. It only improves if a lot of people work very hard to make it better, and actually it will, I think, by itself degrade, actually.”
― Elon Musk

“Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude.”

― Pope Francis, Why the only future worth building includes everyone

“I love how the English language is strewn with little signs of tension between the desire to be comprehensible and the limitations of the technology available at the time. Something as small as the dot on an ‘i’ symbolizes how technology influences form.”

― Helen Zaltzman

“You may use your power to build walls and keep people outside, or you may use it to break barriers and welcome them in. You may use your faith to make people afraid and terrify them into submission. Or you can use it to give courage to people, so they rise to the greatest heights of enlightenment.”

― Shah Rukh Khan

“Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared. Even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to other people’s outside. It will only make you worse than you already are!”

― Anne Lamott

** PS: The full speaker lineup of TED2017 can be found here. The video recordings of TED talks at TED2017 will be posted on TED.com over the course of next year. Up-to-date summaries and coverage of this year’s conference can be found on the TEDBlog. Thank you to all of the incredible TED teams for making the seemingly impossible, possible.

How To Break Open The Web

Good read on the mission to build a web “that works” where “you can do anything you like.”

When we get technology right, it’s a series of incremental advances that make us notice one day that something like a miracle has occurred. To get there now, we should be aware of how all the parts connect—that it’s not a miracle, but a collaborative if complex project—and make sure that we’re not being fenced in in the process. We’ve come to love the convenience of the centralized web, but we’ve failed to recognize how much we now have to ask permission.

— from How To Break Open The Web

Openness, the new WordPress, and the dance most of all.

When I started self-publishing on the internet, there weren’t a whole lot of options in terms of platforms for publishing. But to be fair, in a sense this also meant a lot more freedom. I would just open up a Notepad file and my favorite FTP client to customize and publish the content I wanted to post.

We watch this trade-off happen in an increasingly technological world. Our options and abilities to do anything have increased exponentially, but what kinds of presence, openness, and freedom are we sacrificing along the way? What about taking time to consider the openness that the web was built on?

In a Brain Pickings article, Maria Popova references Rebecca Solnit and ponders how we can “break the tyranny of technology and relearn the art of presence” —

Solnit wonders when the uprising will come — against the part of ourselves too easily lured by the promise of efficiency at the expense of aliveness, and against the corporations exploitively perfecting the allure of such seductive illusions.

So how do we as individuals and as companies keep our aliveness intact in the face of technological advancement?

I’ve watched the evolution of ways we share and consume news over the internet. I’ve stubbornly defended the role of blogging in a changing world and argued that, contrary to many people’s beliefs, it’s not losing relevance. Many think that blogging is antiquated because of the constraints of their definitions around it. On the contrary, blogging is more relevant than ever because of its flexibility and openness. Let’s not forget the lyrical possibilities and profound connections that technology can offer us on top of fast news consumption and narcissistic announcements, if only we allow ourselves the more soulful perspective that the point of it all is sharing.

Om Malik eloquently discusses this point:

Blogging has always been mistaken for its containers, tools, the length of the posts or just a replacement for the rapid-fire publishing of old-fashioned news. In reality, blogging is essentially a philosophy built on the ethos of sharing.

Today sharing on the internet is a major social behavior: We share photos, links, videos, thoughts, opinions, news. Except instead of sharing on a blog, we do the sharing in increasingly proprietary and corporate silos: Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Periscope and LinkedIn. You see, the blogging ethos is alive and well. However, the old blogging tools have to embrace change.

Most of those platforms are built to be silos, Facebook and Instagram being the worst offenders. Their approach is a threat to the open web as much as the rise of the app-centric internet.

I have used a lot of blogging platforms over the past decade. I admit that I moved back to WordPress.com with reluctance. While the desire to control a user’s experience is understandable (see: Apple), I craved the kind of flexibility that is rapidly shrinking on the web and I felt I was still searching for it.

Yesterday, there was a big news announcement about the new WordPress.com. This relaunch is spectacular for many reasons that are listed in neat bullet points in the articles covering it, so I won’t address all the technical aspects (it’s faster, it’s built on JavaScript, etc.). Rather, the open-sourcing of the whole thing and the big changes as a fervent adherence to a vision of freedom are impressive because I know:

  1. how hard it is for a company already in motion to reinvent itself while dealing with the million other things happening and
  2. how hard it is to stand by your vision while dealing with the million other things telling you to go the other direction.

Mark Bittman recently wrote an article for Fast Company about how difficult it is for any company (no matter how big or small or established) to uphold their vision and standards. There are so many voices to listen to, so many pockets to fill, so many people to please. I write for a very small audience relative to many people on the internet, and I sit in admiration of how WordPress has made ease-of-publishing available not only to huge companies but also to people like me.

I am inspired because, in the face of so many trying to stay afloat and sometimes even willing to sacrifice what they stand for in order to optimize profits, WordPress.com takes the risk of changing everything for the sake of freedom.

From one of my favorite Jack Gilbert poems:

Talking about how Charlemagne
couldn’t read but still made a world. About Hagia
Sophia and putting a round dome on a square
base after nine hundred years of failure.

“Not the great fires
built on the edge of the world.” His voice grew
fainter as they carried him away. “Both the melody
and the symphony. The imperfect dancing
in the beautiful dance. The dance most of all.”

I don’t always know what it means. But I think we all risk failure — as companies, as people — but the important thing is to still make our world. We may have gone down a certain road for nine hundred years, but why not take the risk of disruption? We may dance imperfectly, but isn’t the beauty in the dancing itself?

Cheers to openness, and the dance most of all.

Some references: