cc licensed flickr photo shared by aliceskr

It’s been rattling around in the grey matter since Saturday, an un-organized strand of thoughts about the TEDxNYED event— and lacking a clever title, I made it a past tense verb (and that is something I expect no one to even spot as clever).

Just to set the baseline, I only saw about 1/3 of the sessions on the live video stream; after al it was a nice Saturday, and I had a pile of firewood to cut. So I cannot give a full opinion of the event based on the portions of the elephant I touched.

First of all, it is no small feat that the Livestream site supported 20,000 viewers.

That is astounding. For anyone who has had the ulcer inducing job of managing a live stream, there’s little joy. You hear a tsunami wave of complaints when the stream fails (often for reasons beyond your control) and a trickle when it does. I had perfect video even on my little pokey country cable internet connection in Strawberry Arizona. I also commend what i thought I heard in that a group of students were involved in the video end of the production. That is very cool.

20,000 people got to participate. Yep, that is pretty darned elitist.

So I am waiting to see thee sessions I missed on the TEDx YouTube Channel (and a small wish, it would be nice if the videos were somehow tagged or organized into playlists- I cant see any rhyme or order to the list on the right).

It was also smirk inducing when tweet after tweet was asking “Where’s the archives? Where’s the archives?” obviously not from anyone who ever had about 6 hours of raw video to edit, process, and upload. It takes time, much more than 140 characters worth.

I’m not sure I fully buy into the claims of elitism for TEDx from D’Arcy; though I can see what Stephen is driving at when he describes TED as being political. You know, throw three people together in a room for a week and office politics emerge. I recall a speech a few years ago from a couple who did some relief work on a tiny South Pacific island, like 2 miles long. They decided one day to visit the south end of the island, and their hosts got really concerned, “Oh be careful, those people down there are really scary!”

So I am keeping in mind a schooling I got from Chris Lott about how being anti-elitist can be elitist too (I think I got that right?).

Yeah, I had a similar reaction as D’Arcy when I applied to get a seat at TEDxAustin, “WTF”? (I was rejected too, but I shrugged it off). There is a problem when you run an event that many people want to attend- limited seats. So you either have it first come first serve, high price/who can pay, an “application” process like TEDx where some committee deems who gets the golden ticket, or maybe just random. But you have to limit it somehow.

I can’t see TED being closed when they make it’s contents available on live streams for free, and really, for years, they have been generous with the sharing of the videos from even the big events where the beautiful attendees shell out 6000 clams for a ticket. TED puts content out in the open; who is going to spit at that? Not me.

Boone sees TED with some skepticism, though not from a blind eye:

I’ve watched a few dozen of the freely available videos over the years, and most seem, in my unstudied view, to be little more than glorified project pimps or book promos.

I find that a bit of a broad brush stroke. Frankly, in some way when we get on stage, don’t we all pimp for something? Ideas? Our projects? Ourselves? Isn’t there at least a trace or more of ego involved?

I can dig for links, but I’ve seen a few that have introduced me to knew people, projects in an effective way — the Siftables video, any of them with Hans Roling, heck, even Mr VP who invented the internet.

And who could not enjoy Nellie MacKay singing the dog song? Actually, I have used that video a few times as an example of cleanly shot and edited video- it uses multiple cameras well, tight cuts (the shots of her feet on the petal), and assembles it without one cheesy video transition. Nary a dissolve. And damnit, I like the song!

I’m not about to say anything about what the TED event is like cause I have never been to one. And I cant really fully buy some criticism lobbed over the fence from the outside. I do know someone who went to the Big TED, and yes, it is socially stratified– isn;t our entire society stratified?

cc licensed flickr photo shared by Whit Balance

But yeah, TEDxNYED… There were reactions from people like Will who had to wake up at 5:30am and post a once sentence mile long joy dump to Boone who was underwhelmed… I had a 12 watt light bulb go off in considering that in a conference audience, almost like a school classroom, there is almost this unsaid expectation that we can create the same (standard outcomes based) experience for everyone, yet that does not happen. It’s a tough challenge for a conference organizer to the school to try and find what is going to find some elusive middle ground of meeting expectations, yet must accept that people will fall off both ends. This is a conundrum of one size tries to fit all.

I did like the integration of twitter with the Livestream video, it works well. I wondered a little about about the frenzy to tweet out the “line” sound bite, you’ve hear the same key phrase “Do what you do best, link the rest” (oi have I not heard that one before?) 50 times? I had a mental picture of the hall being full of scribes or stenographers, all feversihly pounding the keyboards.

But then again, that is what happens it twitter; people are able to amplify ideas, messages, (and silly crap) quickly and rapidly by spreading through the variable shoots of their own networks. So you cant have the network effect without a lot of repetition. Yet, it did seem like a frenetic pace, and I know that the “Social media Gurus” are out there in sweaty workshops sharing how to create 140 character tweetable sound bites.

I could not see the audience, but from the remarks about lack of diversity, it was likely pretty much WGLM (white guys like me). When these comments started in twitter, I silently snarled something like, “Well maybe you should stand your white ass up, leave, and make room for someone else” — but I also knew that if I was there, I would acknowledge it, grimace slightly inside, and then probably do nothing as I would not know what I *could* do. I’ve got no answer, just this raw feeling, but the world as a whole is rather diverse on its own; but its in the smaller sub-worlds we create that we are capable of making it less locally diverse… which means then we can also make it more so. It happens through action. And foresight. And vigilance. Diversity is not a natural force of nature that operates on its own, we make it happen (or we don’t).

cc licensed flickr photo shared by vissago

So yeah, for some people being TEDxNYED-ed was an electric soul raising gospel see the light experience; for others it was a grave and pathetic disappointment, and then there is likely a whole lot of somewhere in the middle. But as humans we see the whole world only through our lenses, and I think it is a bit easy to extend our own experiences to those of others. It doesn’t work like that. Mi experiencia no es su experiencia

And watching some it play out, I had some of the old itchings about conference formats (along with some of the other tweetplaints about it being ironic to have an agenda of lectures). I love a good lecture, give me a Lessig, a Wesch, a Siemens, a Jenkins (and now a Lehmann) any day. The problem is those are the minority (or am I wrong? are there more good lecturers than bad in terms of public presence??).

But its not the value or not of a public lecture that rubs me,

Think about it in terms of media.

What is a presentation?

Well you have images. Maybe moving ones. A sound track. It starts at one point and ends at the other.

Package it up, and really, it is a video.

So what if a conference presentation was pre-recorded? it would be polished, and I bet people might be les inclined to go on for so long if they have to edit the damned thing. There would be a record for public consumption.

Okay, I will jump on that before anyone else does. We’d likely be less dynamic in front of a camera at home/office. Most screencasts are really deadly monotonic snorers.

The thing that gets me about the standard conference format is the way it fills most (2/3? 3/4? of the time with presentations- when many of us crave, and value the stuff we fill in the cracks in between. Frankly, leaving home for a week, traveling across the country spewing carbon, to come to a stale ventilated conference chicken feed lot.. to sit in chairs and passively watch the equivalent of a video (or ignore them and read email) is…. well slightly ludicrous. The way we use our F2F time at conferences is backwards. Convoluted. Twisted. Silly.

Yet I know the the conference format as a series of 50 minute lectures is not changing anytime soon (and yes, I am guilty as hell of being part of an organization that does conferences in this format). But I do want, sometime in my life, to have a conference, where the content (the contents of a presentation) is done online somewhere, and the time at the conference is spent actually doing something– rather than what the norm is– talking about doing things.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by The Consumerist

And so for those who got TEDxNYED-ed in person, there was that whole portion us in the 20,000 seat back row did not see; the valuable conversations and exchanges happen when the video stream goes offline, the breaks, the dinners, what happens in the smoky bar at 2am, etc. Don’t get me wrong- there is tremendous value in our F2F meetings– but we could do it a whole lot better in how we use that time.

I can’t find as much to slam TEDx as others- I am losing track of whose session or blog post (David Wiley) who talks about how fractionated and wheel recreation oriented we are in education- so there has to be some value in people from different places, who don’t work/live together to join together, and be out of our same cubes. Isn’t that all about increasing connections (right George?) and by the way, kudos to George Siemens for posting the text of his remarks making me now wanting to see the video, thanks for body slamming mr “all i can do is ride google’s monkey”.

That’s it, I am TEDxNYED-ed.

Now you can launch the rotten tomatoes my way.

I have to give Boone kudos for the idea of including random images that come up in tag search for “Ted” that are not TED!

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An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. 20,000 people did not get to _participate_ – they got to watch a movie. Vastly different things.

    My problem isn’t even really with the political nature of TED. Everything is political. It’s with the explicit effort to ensure an echo chamber stuffed with likeminded people, in the name of trying to ensure diversity and impact. That’s bullshit.

    If the awesomeness filter is intended to maximize the impact – of amplifying the effect of the event because those who are most able/willing to do something are directly involved – how many people actually change what they _do_ after attending TED (or any conference, for that matter). How many people go, feel awesome for being there, nod their heads in agreement, and then go home and keep on doing what they were already doing (or planning on doing)?

    Did you say to yourself, even once, to any of the TEDxNYED (or TED, or other) presentations “oh, wow. this changes everything. I will be doing things differently now.”? Or, were you nodding in agreement, “preach it, brother!”

    The closedness isn’t changed by posting some movies online. The event still has bouncers outside, keeping the riffraff out. I would argue that a thousand riffraff are more valuable than a handful of carefully selected Awesome People, and will likely cause more of a change.

    That said, the TEDxNYED lineup was pretty astounding. It would have been a blast to be there for it. I’ll probably watch some of the movies when I get a chance.

    I know I’m coming across as a cranky curmudgeon, and I don’t mean to. I really do appreciate the organizers, presenters, and attendees for trying to make a difference. That’s really fantastic. But we all need to do so with our eyes wide open, seeing exactly what we’re doing.

    1. I’d say that not all “participants” participated either – listening to a lecture, no matter how thought provoking, is not participation.

      I guess I’m in agreement (maybe because I’m not invited), but do all good ideas need acting on? Sometimes, the idea is too early or too late.

      And your point about the attendees are the same as the video watchers – how many of them are moved to action? About the same as any other interaction I suppose.

    2. I’m going to push gently on what we mean by participation, as an argument I tried to make is that a presentation is not a whole lot different from a video.

      What is the difference between

      * me sitting in an audience at TEDxNYED listening to David Wiley in person speak as I also tap out my reflections on twitter….
      * me sitting at home in Strawberry Arizona listening to a live video a stream of David Wiley speaking as I also tap out my reflections on twitter….

      ’cause that is the bulk of the event.

      There is participation in the moment and what I think is more important- participation *after* the moment. There is more to participating than just being in the physical space.

  2. No keep the cranky coming. I forgot the chamber-ish effect. One of the tweets lost in there I thought I said was that the audience that needed to hear the messages was not in the room- it was very much preacher/choir or preacher/preacher.

    And even that, a few of the speakers actually seemed to be telling people messages I felt like they already new.

    And I know which side of the velvet ropes I always land.

  3. Hi Alan – thanks for your reflections.

    My view of TED is similar to yours – yes, it’s elitist. But it’s still fun to be a part of the conversation. If someone stripped “TEDxNYED” off the conference list and it was simply a collection of people who care somewhat about education, I think most people would have found it to be a useful activity. Maybe my idealism is lower on this topic than it usually is on these things – I was happy to just be a part of some great conversations.

    As to D’Arcy’s point – yes, not everyone was let in to the event. I met one gentleman from Germany who was in the US doing a cross-country tour of different school systems. He wanted to attend, but the venue was full. So he hung out at the front of the building and interviewed people as they went out for breaks. Something feels very wrong about that.

    By the same account, it speaks to the influence of the TED name. Most other conferences don’t generate the same passion or interest. The online streaming aspect of the conference had many more attendees than the f2f. Either edtech people generally have a pretty boring Saturday, or enough they found value in the experience to participate.

    So what are options? open-tedx? i.e. a grassroots conference circuit? Ooh. I know. TED 2.0.

    Anyway, I appreciate your reflections Alan.


  4. Reading this made me think way back to 2005 when I went to my first iLaw up at Harvard. It was where I had my life changing first Lessig moment…silly I know that one can get all giddy over a presentation. But it was the first time I had seen someone really brilliant and really passionate give a really creative presentation that just rocked my entire worldview. I’d done about six presentations of my own to that point, and I immediately went and created these austere white on black slides with just one or two words, and for the next year or so tried to be Lessig. It didn’t work all that well, of course, but the point is really good presentations and presenters can just change someone’s life. It wasn’t just Lessig, but it was Jonathan Zittrain and Yochai Benkler and all these other folks who were painting this amazing new picture of the world. And I remember talking to some other folks in attendance who were having that same giddy, omg experience I was. I still smile when I think about it.

    For some at TedxNYED, that was their moment, I’m sure. There is something about being there that changes the dynamic, obviously. We want not just the inspiration, but we want to share the giddyness with others, to validate it, to make sure we’re not alone. It’s not the same as watching the movie. And I know that it’s echo-y and that in the grand scheme of things all that kumba-ya stuff isn’t always a good thing. But in that moment, it’s pretty heady.

    A couple of other points, though. iLaw did that record-the-presentations-and-have-people-watch-them-before-they-come thing. I still have these very lecturey, well produced CDs of Zittrain and Lessig basically doing the stuff you can find on iTunesU but straight to the camera. And it was great, because it gave me some much needed context. It didn’t mean that the conference was spent in conversation at all, like you suggest. It just meant that a lot more of it made sense.

    But here is the other thing. Jarvis mentioned the first BloggerCon in his presentation, and lo and behold, I was at that one too, waaaayyyy back in 2003. (There I am, the very last one on the roll, with Barbara Ganley and Jenny Levine and, wow, even Adam Curry. (Adam Curry!!!) Anyway, that was all about the conference that you want, Alan. It’s what EduCon was built on, though Chris may not even know it. Take the idea, throw it out to the room, and let’s have at it. But this time, I’m sitting NEXT to Jarvis and Jay Rosen and Josh Marshall and Ray Ozzie and we’re just letting our minds to bleed out together and learning a lot in the interaction.

    It was equally amazing…maybe even more.

    Anyway, not sure what the point of all of that was, especially since I’ve got like 20,000 other things to do right now, but thanks for prodding me back in time for a bit. Really fun memories of the journey. Hope it helps the conversation.

  5. Thanks for the levelheaded post, Alan. As I read what you and others have written, I’m seeing that the ramblings on my own blog fall short in two ways:

    1) Conflating TED(.com) with TEDxNYED. Especially for the “book shill” comment. TEDxNYED was focused on education, which forced the speakers (and the audience) to frame the talks within a certain set of goals. So while (for example) Michael Wesch’s talk was at least in part a “check out what I did!”, he did a really nice job of turning that into a point that was relevant and important for the people in the room. Ur-TED, being about everything and anything, has no such centralizing focus to water down the shills.

    2) Conflating others with myself. I love the image Will paints in his comment of somebody having a “giddy, omg experience” of the kind that can only be had in a room full of excited people watching a live and dynamic speaker. I didn’t have that moment myself this weekend, in part because I already know and follow the work of so many of the speakers. But I’ve made contact with one or two people since then who are not in that position, and for them the conference was a bit more omgful. Moreover, I have a growing, more general sense of unease about conferences where people who are all buddies-on-the-internet get together and amplify the social club. (I say this as someone who is sometimes part of the club.) What’s great about Twitter etc is that it lets the connection be continuous. What’s bad is that, by putting individuals like myself in a constant state of listening and talking to people I agree with, it decreases the shock-to-my-system effect that a f2f conference can have. In a sense, I suppose I should be grateful that I’m lucky enough to be so connected to the online world of education that I care about that an exciting event like TEDxNYED leaves me less than omg.

    On a related note: Man, how could I have forgotten the Nuge? Sweaty uncle Teddy!!

  6. I’d take your idea one step further, have a conference where the speaker’s talk is recorded, the ensuing conversations are facilitated by the speaker.

    Unfortunately, we’d get as many bad videos as we have bad PowerPoints, bad websites and bad podcasts. Perhaps a conference on aesthetics/design aimed at educators?

  7. I really like the part about conferences being F2F time rather than presentations. Discussing and hanging out with like-minded people with whom you can share ideas is by far the most fulfilling part of any conference. I agree that video or presentation is not different in terms of participation. It’s the interaction that happens between that really matters.

    My contentions are on the question of riff-raff vs. chosen few. It matters to me who are considered the chosen few and for what reason? Is it for the qualification, is it for their wealth, is it for what they have been able to achieve, or is it because of their ideas as having merit in of itself. Since the conference is about ideas in the general sense, I think it makes sense that the ideas are considered in of themselves without attaching the bias of wealth, qualification, or achievement as a halo to them in order legitimizing them and potentially make them more viral.

    I have been thinking that TED videos can be basically analysed for their content and compared to the running discourse about the subject as such. Since they are readily available, they are readily open to criticism, and as such perhaps someone should take on that task — however unpopular that might be… as I can see a lot of hissing on D’Arcy’s post there are a lot of people who passionately defend TED.

    Another issue is the whole echo chamber discussion. I don’t know whether the echo chamber is the correct definition in the case where like-minded people with the same qualifications, socio-economic status, industry and so on get together. On the internet, a few years ago, someone would say something and then it would be repeated word for word with a line or two of comment — that was the echo-chamber — that effect has largely disappeared. In general the whole idea about preaching the choir or preaching to the preacher has a very specific sort of context within the church where the message is limited and is accepted as a function of faith rather than of reason backed up by debate. I find that when people who actually have ideas to say discuss, debate, or criticize ideas at length it adds to the understanding of the ideas, at least it does in my mind, if not the ideas themselves but how they are perceived and how they fit in a given ideology. In some ways, because of this, I feel that being impolite at times is necessary as it forces the other person to defend their ideas instead of just reiterating them without backing them up.

    One final angle to consider this thing is from the nature of how TEDx is used to legitimize TED’s discourse. TEDx events really have nothing to do with TED, and yet the process through which they operate is decided at least in part by TED. As people popularize TEDx events, they popularize TED’s discourse while at the same time having no impact whatsoever on that discourse. Perhaps I can concede that some impact may be had, if the videos are put online for anyone to view. So the legitimate discourse (done by people who don’t have agendas to acquire more capital or power) is mixed with the illegitimate discourse (done by people and imaginary people to acquire more power or money or maintain the status quo even if it is unjust) and certain ideas like Bill Gates’ foundations’ latest support for Monsanto as a way to fight poverty and world hunger gets mixed with Lessig’s ideas about free culture and so on. So it becomes harder to question and maintain public opinion about certain issues that are no-brainier otherwise.

    It just seems like the people who accumulated the capital have decided to do some good, and that good may involve a good component and another component of increasing the level of control over the system and curtailing freedom. Eventually this control leads to issues of using that control to generate profits, which then leads to other social problems.

    I am also all TED’d out.

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