Whenever someone is trying to convince me of a particular point of view, no matter how intense, charming or persuasive, after a while, the words blend into jarring, guttural “RAH RAH” sounds that I tune out. “Just trying to help! Look at this! Take my advice!” Ironically, friends and family who have been victim to passionate “talks” from me probably want to lock me in jail for similar crimes committed against their patience and sanity. No bueno.
I bring this up because a stage is coming where opinions will be shoved down your throat: TEDx. It’s the modern watering hole of advice. Speakers get on stage and share a passion in science, technology, sex, love, people, whatever he or she believes will benefit someone else. But that platform, in some eyes, does nothing.
Eyes like those of Benjamin Bratton, an associate professor of visual arts at the University of California, San Diego, who spoke out with his opinion. It was not about a new breakthrough, it wasn’t motivational speak or brash cheerleading for a certain way of living. What it was, was a questioning of TEDx itself. Looking past the irony of a “TEDx talk about how TEDx talks don’t work,” Bratton’s point was that if TEDx isn’t linked to immediate action, then aren’t we just wasting time rubbing ourselves off while real challenges are out there needing to be solved? Is TEDx just the BuzzFeed of technology and philosophy? “America’s Got Talent” meets “Jeopardy”? Is it branding ideas in order to make certain viewpoints unpopular, commoditizing intelligence even further? These are valid questions about its utility, but the sentiments assume deviousness around every corner.
TEDx offers a platform to listen and engage. Subway platforms provide preachers a space to yell and engage. Pipe Dream lets me write and engage. Engagement shouldn’t be packed with expectations, so TEDx should only be judged on the merit of its ability to spread thoughts while connecting people who are putting themselves and their passions out there. TEDx can’t and shouldn’t be burdened with changing the world, nor should it be vilified since culpability lies in the hands of our own personal inactivity in not making that “change.” And “change” isn’t a thing to even be expected or implored, because change implies a dark, debilitating fault with what’s present rather than pushing progress.
For every terrible talk featuring someone boasting about nothing, there is likely a brilliant one like Bratton’s that forces dialogue, which can be uncomfortable and foreign, yet exciting and refreshing. TEDx’s existence at least gets people to the table of thought, which is already cluttered with flappy birds and celebrity dance shows. So, whether annoyed or enthralled, you’re at least digesting something that is creating a buzz about learning and curiosity.
Some of the upcoming speakers might inspire, with ideas full of breadth and depth that challenge you deeply. Other speakers might be boisterous and funny, but full of fluff. The ones that will really hit the spot will be a mix of both. But whatever grabs you, you’ll be taking in something new and with it, a treasured opinion — a person’s attempt to share him or herself, which you can delve into deeply and passionately or casually revisit whenever it floats your bloat.
Do it on March 30. And then take it further. Define yourself in a new way, and then seek the thrill of risking that definition. Hike with the Outdoors Club, apply to photograph lions with Raven Adventures, perform at a poetry slam, research an idea, skydive or risk social exclusion by spending a day tinkering with a program on your computer. Whatever you do, really, stray the course.
I’m excited for TEDx, to be able to sit and think, dismiss or accept. What are you going to take out of it? What’s your opinion going to be?