Cranky About TED

Reader, you really must go and read this commentary.  For the uninitiated, TED talks are generally given by people in the science and technology fields and they are quite flashy.  The people giving the talks have impressive credentials and are generally very capable speakers.  Often, the presentations come across as informative and inspiring, but there may be reason to be more than a little cranky about them.  Here is a taste of Benjamin Bratton’s commentary in The Guardian.

Let me tell you a story. I was at a presentation that a friend, an astrophysicist, gave to a potential donor. I thought the presentation was lucid and compelling (and I’m a professor of visual arts here at UC San Diego so at the end of the day, I know really nothing about astrophysics). After the talk the sponsor said to him, “you know what, I’m gonna pass because I just don’t feel inspired …you should be more like Malcolm Gladwell.”

At this point I kind of lost it. Can you imagine?

Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularisation. This is taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not the solution to our most frightening problems – rather this is one of our most frightening problems.

Don’t worry, there is plenty more juice in the article, linked above, including this crusty gem.

TED of course stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, and I’ll talk a bit about all three. I Think TED actually stands for: middlebrow megachurch infotainment.

The commentary isn’t just a hit piece though.  It actually says very intriguing things.  Again, this is just a taste.

Because, if a problem is in fact endemic to a system, then the exponential effects of Moore’s law also serve to amplify what’s broken. It is more computation along the wrong curve, and I don’t it is necessarily a triumph of reason.


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