Thursday, March 10, 2011

Reflections on TEDxGoldstar

Now that I've had some time to soak in the ideas, stories, and speakers at TED via TEDxGoldstar (a simulcast of TED2011 occurring at Downtown Independent), I figured it was time to have a post reflecting on the event.  First off, thanks to Goldstar for picking us at an Interactive Host via my haiku entry.  I - and everyone else at ExperienceLA - meant it!  It was great to follow the sessions, see people's reactions as things were said (so that you weren't the only one who thought something was funny or worth celebratory clapping), mingle with other TEDxGoldstar attendees, and keep everyone posted on our Twitter account.  But what TED teaches us is that ideas aren't just worth spreading to many people, they're worth soaking in and mulling over, so that ultimately they can become call to actions.

Deep Mystery
The first session was like plunging into the ocean (before we actually did kind of plunge into an ocean in the closing session) of ideas.  Beginning with a walk through the mind led by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio followed by a microscopic journey into the world of DNA by geobiologist Felisa Wolf-Simon continuing on with the idea of being in two places at once with Physicist Aaron O’Connell and then into the musical journey of mixed media with cellist Maya Beiser, it was fitting that the "Deep Mystery" session ended up in the world of cognitive science with Deb Roy.

In the "Deep Mystery" session, the speakers provided facts and examples.  But really, they gave us stories that funneled us along into places where more questions existed.  The journeys they brought us to revealed that the "Deep Mystery" keeps on getting deeper the further we continue on - the further we challenge our assumptions, the more that exists that defies what we know, that makes us realize that there's so much to know that we sometimes don't take the time to contemplate.

Roy closed this session by bringing us to familiar places and drawing our attention to the complexity of things we thought we already understood.  It is easy to say that children learn language, but Roy (who had his house audio taped and video taped for the first three years of his son's life) showed us how much we might not be able to understand the process.  The TedxGoldstar audience sat in silent awe as he displayed audio clips of his son learning the word "water."  His son initially called it "gaga" and the brief audio clip brought us from "gaga" to "water".  The process wasn't seamless - at one point in the middle the words shifted back and forth, until they finally settled on "water" - but that lack was part of how incredible it was to hear it happen.

Roy also applied knowledge from his research to show how topics of mass media lined up with social media feeds.    I don't think I was the only one in the audience to be a little disheartened at how much social interaction occurred with Jersey Shore, but rather than elaborating on that as example, Roy looked at Barak Obama and the State of the Union Address.  It was amazing to see how many social media participants talked about the speech and - then on top of that - to understand that they were also talking to each other about the topic.  It brought social media to a whole new level, as a source of communication, as a means in how we can understand the communicators. 

Worlds Imagined
In the second session, we moved on from the "deep mystery" that shrouds so many details of our inner workings and outward to life as we know it and can know it.  Director/Designer Julie Taymor started the session with her story of traveling to Indonesia and seeing local people performing outside, without light, to no audience.  She explained that these people were "performing for God" and after they performed, lights were then lit.  She used this story to elaborate on how "You must be true to what you believe as an artist all the way through. But you also have to be aware that the audience is out there and they also need the light." Included in Taymor's speech were clips from her own work, including the Spider-Man musical.  For all the chaos that seems to have surround the musical, the clips shown held some amazing action sequences, songs, and elaborate set-design that I'm sure had people mark the show for their future calendars.

Morgan Spurlock then followed with a rousing talk on "embracing transparency" showing how so many say they do embrace it, but in reality most don't due to fear of it.  He utilized clips of his upcoming documentary The Greatest Movie Ever Sold which showed Spurlock seeking businesses that wanted to be transparently branded in his film, showing how many people didn't actually know their brands and what they wanted their brand to mean.  Spurlock took his idea to heart - gaining permission from TED to sell the branding of his talk.  He was able to do so for the price of over $7000.  As he handed the check over, he joked (I think) that the check was going toward his attendance next year.

Following Spurlock was Bill Ford, executive of Ford Motors.  Despite being from Ford, his talk centered on transportation solutions.  He provided this estimate of car ownership: there will be 2-4 billion cars by 2050.  While he said that Ford would build smart cars, he also advocated building smart roads and smart public transit. How are these for ideas?  Automatically reserved parking spots and driverless cars!  As ExperienceLA advocates for public transit (and this blogger in particular is carless), these sounded like wonderful ideas for me.  I immediately wanted to know: "when do we start?"

But we were off to another world - one that will soon be more likely than mass implementation of reserved parking spots and driverless cars.  Inventors of Bubbli Terrence McArdle and Ben Newhouse arrived with iPads and iPhones in hand to show how tomorrow's images can literally push the boundaries of our perspectives, keeping us unbounded while still enabling us to stay in a "bubble" (bubbli?).  From seeing more of the horizon on an online photo or a 360-degree perspective of your friend's travel, bubbli stretches what we think we're limited in seeing - and even reading.  McArdle and Newhouse demonstrated how the book Alice and Wonderland could have additional hypertextual features that let the book come into greater life via detailed photos. 

The session closed with Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi who showed how the availability of Pepsi Refresh grants could successfully create community projects, creating a better world that people could imagine for their own communities.  If you're unfamiliar with the Pepsi Refresh projects, everyday people can submit ideas, include how much budget they would require, and these ideas would then get selected and then voted on.  Nooyi discussed how the company was going to build on this, assisting with the sustainability of the projects through training and other means of education. 

Worlds Imagined showed stories of how the imagined can become the possible.

Knowledge Revolution
After a great lunch break of discussion and food, we returned for Knowledge Revolution with Bill Gates curating.  Historian David Christian somehow managed to condense billions of years of history into his speech, leading us into the present and the complexity of humans.  He attributes the complexity of humans with collective learning and fossil fuels that have enabled us to travel across the globe - and having seen history past before my eyes and seen the human race come into being in this talk, it was pretty easy to believe and agree with him.

Amina Az-Zubair followed Christian's talk with a more specific human example of change.  Az-Zubair discussed the change Nigeria underwent through the implementation of Millennium Development Goals.  Through their hard work (and focus also on ensuring that money went to where money was meant to be spent), they were able to reduce the incidences of Malaria and provide 20 million Nigerians with clean water.
Following that inspirational talk was Bruce Aylward.  I always thought polio had been eradicated, but Aylward told us that this was not the case.  He stated that "Polio strikes the poorest people in the world, pulling them down" - among one of the many points of his talk that had us all rooting for a polio-free world. 

Bill Gates introduced Salman Khan of Khan Academy with the following: "I think the most important issue for the U.S. is education."  Khan is definitely making his impact here as his free site enables users to self-pace learn via videos and Khan Academy is working with Los Altos on a pilot project to bring this technology into the classroom.

You know that cliche "knowledge is power"?  Well, it really is true!

Radical Collaboration
There's nothing like breaking boundaries and going where "no one has gone before".  In the case of session opening speaker Edith Widder, this place isn't space, but the deep depths of the ocean.  Widder is a deep-sea explorer who combines technology to explore the amazing part of the ocean where creatures look strange and stranger still can produce bio-luminescence.  Often these creatures use bio-luminescence as a means of defense.  If you followed the twitter, I made a silly joke about light sabers - only for Widder to humorously put in "pew-pew" effects as she showed bio-luminescence in action.  She even had a live demonstration of this on stage!

Jamie Oliver followed Widder with briefly discussing Food Revolution, the second season is going to be in Los Angeles!  He arrived here hoping to take advantage of Los Angeles being a media center, but he's had a rocky start here.  Among the issues?  He was banned by LAUSD. 

JR, street artist and TED Prize 2011 Winner, followed Oliver's talk and discussed his amazing street art projects which involve large portraits of people that are then placed on walls and other outside objects.  Because they are paper and ink and not often disruptive, these art pieces often stay exactly as JR had left them - with maybe a little bit of wear and tear from the outside elements.  One of his series was "Women are Heroes" featuring the faces of local women.  JR believes that "Art can change the way we see the world."  As the prize winner, JR gets to make a wish.  His wish?  To create a similar project on a larger-scale that includes participation by the public.  This project is called Inside Out.  See the video below for his wish.

Additionally, members of the audience were able to contribute to this idea.  It was amazing to see change in action - people working together - as JR received not only invitations to bring his work to other locations, but offers of additional grants to document the project and ensure that it was a part of Google Earth. 

The amazing day closed with Antony and the Johnsons performing.  It was a great way to end the day.  The music enabled you to just soak in the day's many ideas while still keeping you aware that ideas were still happening, that music can also change the world. 

-Charity Tran

No comments: