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.