Sunday, September 29, 2013

reflections on TEDx Copenhagen, part one

talking on the phone, chewing gum and wearing these shoes on cobblestones don't mix. #justsayin

i've had a few days to let the experience of TEDx Copenhagen wash over me. on the day itself, i think i felt a little bit let down and disappointed, feeling that the talks didn't live up to the quality i had come to expect from TED. that feeling hasn't really changed after a few days of pondering it. to be fair, there were a couple of exceptions - young entrepreneur sara naseri, of persian descent, but raised in denmark, took us through her development of a molecule to protect from uv rays at the age of 17. she was utterly charming and wonderful, as well as having an inspiring story of having the courage to pursue your idea and to continue even in the face of roadblocks. i also thought mads lodahl's call to challenge the straight world order, questioning how our notions of normal came to be what they are and who benefits from them, was worth the trip (more about that in another post).

the overall theme was "mirror, mirror," a reference to snow white's step-mother's truthful mirror on the wall, unable to speak other than the truth, even if it was uncomfortable. the talks didn't all fit this theme, to be honest. and the quality was all over the place. low points were the oddly-dressed eva kruse, founder of copenhagen fashion week, who had a vague message about how the clothing industry needed to be more sustainable, but few notions of how that could happen aside from utilizing the cloth more efficiently. it was a shame her talk was so empty, as she had pretty much gotten top bill on the TEDx Copenhagen website. i spent most of her talk distracted by the odd outfit she was wearing, sort of 80s aerobics wear meets star trek with a peplum.

other low points were the emotional talk by comedian and cancer survivor geo, who did a short plea for people to not be afraid to talk to people with cancer. it was sweet and his tears seemed real, but i couldn't see how it fit with the program. there was a sales pitch by a blind man named hans jørgen wiberg, who had invented an app called be my eyes that could enable us all to be volunteers from the comfort of our own couches. again, he was sweet, but it didn't provoke me to think the way i had expected of TED.

i was suprised by how many of the online TED talks (five or six) they showed throughout the day. at one point, i tweeted that i could watch these at home, why were they using valuable time on them? especially as they had chosen hard-core science and math talks that, in my view, were mostly far from their theme. they then explained (far too late), that they were required by the licensing agreement to show a certain amount of TED talks from youtube. they really should have explained that up front.

the two organizers, lærke and ronni, behaved onstage like they had recently broken up and couldn't stand one another. happily, they only came onstage and subjected us to this at the beginning and the end. i think if they'd acted as hosts, it would have really ruined the day.

late in the day, i wrote in my notebook: this conference needs higher caliber presenters. a girl who helps homeless men play soccer gave a sweet, but ultimately pointless talk. an artist, working in glass, gave a strange, disjointed talk on the properties of transparency and then rushed offstage in a way that struck me as far before she originally planned to. a young brit, harry fear, who was a documentary filmmaker and a bit too in love with himself promoted his films about the gaza strip. he had a valid message about how we should seek news in alternative sources, rather than from the monolithic mainstream media (which he left undefined and unquestioned), but missed the chance to delve deeper into how the mainstream media has come to present the version(s) of events it presents. in my view, his gloss on it was just as shallow as theirs. i'll take bets that he'll be working for the BBC the next time we see him.

but it wasn't all disappointing, the opening talk, by head of the danish design center, nille juul-sørensen was interesting and started the day off well. he brought one of arne jakobsen's ant chairs onstage and issued a call to danish designers to stop thinking about designing iconic objects and instead design the future in a meaningful way. he cited two areas where he thought that the design of the future could make an impact - in the area of waste (thinking beyond recycling) and in the notion of a circular economy, where things get shared or reused or repurposed for another use when their original use is over. he said, "the coolest thing about the future is that we're going to live there." 

some of the unexpected highlights were the various performances that interspersed the talks and the videos. when all you've seen are online TED talks, you don't realize that as an event, there's a whole lot more going on at a TED conference. there was a very provocative burka-related dance/video/music/theatrical performance by EUrabia. improvisational music directed by sound painting (it sounded an awful lot like jazz) by a group called borderline. and my personal favorite, a phenomenal performance by one-man band kalle's world tour. there was even live entertainment in the bathroom by niels gröndahl.

there's even entertainment in the bathroom. #tedxcph #puttingtheeinted

i thought that TED stood for technology, education and design, but learned that it actually stands for technology, entertainment and design. entertained, i definitely was, but not always provoked to think at the level i had expected. sometimes tho', it can be good to check your expectations at the door and just let the experience wash over you.

i have more to tell about something unexpected that came out of the conference, but i'll leave that for the next post.

1 comment:

Spilling Ink said...

The bar is set pretty high by most (or a lot?) of the original TED talks. It's not hard to imagine why one would arrive with high expectations.