Day 4 started off in a different way. A month prior to the main conference program, all attendees received an email that had selections of either workshops or an exclusive screening of Google/YouTube’s “Life In A Day” movie. Each of the workshops were hosted by Levi’s, Blackberry, and Coffee Common; all of them are partners in some manner for TEDGlobal 2011. I got that email on midnight of my time, and I couldn’t make up my mind. When I awoke the next day to sign up for one of the workshops, they were all taken. Luckily, the movie screening wasn’t even filled up. Guess something is better than nothing.
Making my way upto the Sidlaw Theatre that is near the main presentation area, everyone with the screening tickets ushers themselves into vacant seats. The theatre did pack up, but we still had the issue of light spilling into the darkness, that would end up ruining the movie screening. Luckily, the TED staff figured out a solution in split-second and got some makeshift drapes over the corridors.
Dan Cobley from Google helped to kick things off to give the audience an insider about the movie. The origins can be traced back to Google’s private version of Dragon’s Den (It’s a TV series, and highly recommended to watch). They chose to try something new with regards to film making, and crowd-sourcing it seemed like a big feat. They narrowed their window to one date – July 24, 2010. With many people scattered across the globe, they were sent cameras, which would then record that one day and send the footage back to YouTube for processing and rough cuts. Dan said that it took quite a while to view and select the required clips.
When the screening began, LG’s logo sprouted up as being a sponsor for this movie. Following that, 2 names along the lines of Ridley Scott and Tony Scott. I was in awe, thinking that these guys must have had a hand in this movie, especially the former whose credentials stretch back to Gladiator.
When the screening finished, everyone clapped to a loud applause. Dan announced that it would make its way to cinemas, and then later released on YouTube for free. Talk about new channel of distribution. Everyone made their way out of the theatre, and I saw the whole area began to spin around. I realized that this merges with the bigger one to add more seating. Never saw that in any presentation hall.
A short coffee break, and the crowd outside was quite thin. Next thing you know, it begins to fill up as if there’s a Black Friday deal. I know that I want to be in the live seating for this session. Good thing that being on the same floor serves an advantage.
As I decided to camp around the stairway entrance, I saw Dean Bob Monroe in the distance as he was taking a photo. Why not capture him from my vantage point? Even managed to spot Bilal tucked away in the packed crowd.
Doors opened, and everyone rushed into to grab the closest seat to the stage. Minutes later, Bruno came up to open Day 4 and introduced the guest host Pat Mitchell for her curated session.
Session 8 ‘Embracing Otherness’ almost brought out the 2 sides to the coin for the speakers, along with the 2 sides of each of those sides. Who knows how many others these people have been in their past years? This might just lead me to some infinite recursion (that’s my math and science side that spoke out loud). Don’t even get me started on that…
Actress Thandie Newton (Zimbabwean with British nationality – you’ll remember her from Mission Impossible 2) shared her personal account of how she found herself from being a child of 2 different cultures and of playing different roles in her movies. It chronicled her journey of self-discovery, as she described how each of us have on side to ourselves and another self that we could take for granted, yet it would ground us to our roots.
Her own experience showed what it felt like growing up as part of many different cultures. Even going as far as saying that the concept of race was only born out of our need to distinguish ourselves. I guess that shows how racial identities and racism proved to be instigated by societal calls for segregation. A standing ovation rounded up her 13 minutes of a personal and truthful account of discovering one’s inner ‘self’.
Yang Lan, known as the ‘Oprah of China’, breaks away from the usual stigma and stereotype of a typical female host for a TV series. Taking on the role of hosting the first-ever unscripted TV show for the Chinese, she molded herself as being ‘herself’ rather than the usual ‘sweet, beautiful and innocent’ – which proved to be the stigmatized requirements for TV show hosts. Looking at her reminded me of Oprah, and I’m sure she’d die for Yang Lan’s audience – 250 million watch her on TV and millions more to her site.
She described that hosts didn’t have their own ideas and voice. That helped garner her the first show which allowed hosts to read without an approved script. Much of her talk focused on the youth and their identities through social media. You know that much of the world’s most popular social networks are banned in China, which has given rise to their local counterparts geared to their country.
Nadia Al-Sakkaf, the Editor-In-Chief of The Yemen Times, spoke in a Q&A with Pat Mitchell. Small couches set up on stage as Pat fielded questions to her and Nadia shared her first-hand account of what is Yemen through her eyes. Even with the recent uprising, Nadia shared some photos on how this was driven by women. With a little journey down memory lane, she shared her inner conflict when she claimed that she was neither Yemeni nor Indian. Her replies to her that she is the bridge, courtesy of her late father. With a little humor, she nicely played on the bridge angle along the lines of how ‘people walked over me’.
Her story recounts the societal perception of the typical Yemeni women who wold be behind closed doors. Defying all odds and authority when she took up the position at The Yemen Times, she claimed that “A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do – in the first year, I fired half the men”. Creating a more gender-balanced environment, she also attributes her success to the support by her husband – who was also present in the audience. Rounding it up, she received a standing ovation.
Jarreth Merz, a Swiss who has lived in Ghana (also acted in The Passion of the Christ), recounts his observed presence of seeing the people’s democracy emerge out of their own self-persistence. He felt liberated when he grew up in Ghana, yet he also witnessed his first military coup that was also broadcast live. As he returned back to Switzerland and spent his remaining years, he felt type-casted as a terrorist due to his African heritage that he clung tightly. With that, he thought about how many different terrorists he would have to play before he would be branded as one. After 28 years of absence, he returned back to Ghana while defying the probable ashamed part of his conscience. What happened in Ghana apparently mirrored what happened within Jarreth’s life.
Bunker Roy, a son of a elitist and rich Indian family shared his tale of how he defied his family status and decided to do something for the poor. He claimed that the life and education that he was given almost destroyed him from within. With his Barefoot College, he opes the doors to washouts, dropouts and societal rejects who channel their commitment and passion to make a difference. As he explained his tale of putting them to work, he has also shared his solution of teaching those who can’t read or write – using nothing but children’s puppets. Except these puppets are quite different - they are made from recycled World Bank reports. Everyone in the audience erupted in laughter.
He’s done everything from getting youngsters to make sustainable solutions to support their own villages, to even training grandmothers in making solar panels (He even claimed that you wouldn’t find any difference between them and German engineers). He’s even redefined communicating with people – don’t use telephones, ‘tell-a-woman’; it’ll spread faster than e-mail. If there’s one thing that his talk had conveyed, the solutions to problems can come from within when we listen to people. They would have the solutions to problems that can be understood rather than listening to others from outside. When his talk culminated, it garnered a standing ovation.
He reminded me of being a true Indian, in spite of facing insurmountable odds against the governance that is already embroiled in many scandals. TED even put out Facebook and tweets to solicit ‘TED Letters’ that were to specific speakers that helped open their eyes. I had put out one for Bunker Roy, which ended up being retweeted by TED then by me. You can see it here:
in full glory.
Vertigo gave one mesmerizing dance performance that almost threw all my conventional beliefs out of the door. Strobe lights, body gestures, old social stigmas, and much more intertwined their performance. Combined with darkness and strobe lights, almost felt psychidelic and trance-inducing. I think they were this close to whisk me off my seat.
During lunch, many TEDx organizers met again for another impromptu session. This time, our focus was on the technology aspects of creating one shareable repository for other TEDx organizers to share their content and to streamline common activities such as attendee registration and more. The TED IT team and engineers were on hand as they heard the voices of other TEDx organizers, and also shared their work-in-progress. Lara also joined in and put her thoughts to the conversation.
In addition, the robot on the spherical wheel was also on hand for a demo to all the attendees. Seeing that lunch was nearing the end and I haven’t finished eating, it only seemed best that I stay in the social spaces to watch the next session.
Session 9 ‘Living Systems’ kicked off by Chris Anderson on sharing how the guest curation really helped in bringing in more voices to the conference. His overview on this session stems from taking out the lens of view on how systems really intertwine with each other.
Alain de Botton, a philosopher and also a prior TEDGlobal speaker, returned to touch upon the controversial topic of religion. I realized that I had a book of his ”The Architecture of Happiness” from one of my CMU classes; this was from my last semester as a student which was December 2010. It hit me at that instant – I could have had him autograph it in person. He talked about ‘Atheism 2.0′; moving on from the old belief that there is no God, fairies, etc. He claims that’s not the end, but the beginning. Cited authors that they wanted to replace scripture with culture, and how a sermon by a religious head can change your life when a lecture only gives you information. He even advocated that people should return to the circle of sermons, as people need morality and guidance.
Erik Hersman, a Senior TED Fellow, took to the stage for a few minutes to share his new narratives on Africa. In addition, he is also the co-founder of Ushahidi – a crowd-sourced platform for disaster reporting. It was put to use the day before when Mumbai was rocked by explosions, and that happened during Sessions 5 & 6. He’s also known as ‘White African’, courtesy of his Twitter name.
Paul Snelgrove, a marine oceanographer, gives an update on the census of the diverse marine life. His report on how a large share of biodiversity and the oxygen that people breathe comes from 70% of the water covering the planet. Showing how that we know more about the surface of Mars and the Moon, we may not even know that much of the oceans.
Pavan Sukhdev is advocating governments and corporations to further assess the true value of Mother Nature. With a report that was created by TEEB, he stated that the conclusion proved to quite an eye opener – people were losing the benefits of nature to people (a.k.a natural capital) that could be worth $2 – $4 trillion worth; this was back in 2008 when the financial meltdown took place.
Segmenting the diferent types of carbon markets, he came up with the following:
- Brown: CO2 emissions from use
- Black: Incomplete combustion from fuel
- Blue: Oceans storing 55% of carbon
- Green: Carbon stored in terrestrial ecosystems, forests, soils, etc.
Pauline Chen, a surgeon, gives her perspective of how she faced death through the patients she treats. Putting the role of doctors into focus, she summarizes that not having cured someone of a life-threatening ailment means that doctors haven’t saved a life. Even touching upon how all the attendees present are already dying, though at different rates. You could say that as she shared accounts of people who have been on the death-bed, she also shared the outcome of how they died a peaceful death that was beyond recovery. I’d say that she rehumanized medicine as being compassionate and one with patients, and that earned her a standing ovation.
Charles Hazlewood, a musical conductor, helps to close off this session. He narrowed it down on the topic of trust, especially when trust between him and the orchestra plays a role in the music. He spins it into a musica narrative that is born out of mutual respect with a mixture of body language. Within minutes, musicians come out from the audience as they play the violin and choreographing their way towards the stage. With a small applause, Charles presents members of the Scottish Ensemble.
He shared his story of how he formed a music company in South Africa and brought together 40 young performers. Though the major challenge he faced was getting the whites and blacks to play together, he highlighted that music helped to instill trust that blossomed friendship. Even playing TED as a tune, though T doesn’t exist he found a way that T does fit into the musical notes. What we didn’t realize that the orchestra from the beginning actually played TED.
With the one hour break that I had before the next session, I joined in on the TEDx regional meeting for Middle East & North Africa. A lot of discussion ensued, as much of our focus was to educate the public yet also see how we can empower and motivate them. Anwar Dafa-Alla, TED Volunteer Translator with over 600+ translations in Arabic under his belt, shared his efforts on engaging his community. A lot of ideas and collaborative efforts were discussed. Speaker Nadia Al-Sakkaf along with her husband was also present, as she expressed great interest in doing one back in Yemen.
The last session of the day, Session 10 ‘Feeling, touched upon the moral and emphatic side to our humanistic side. Bruno takes to the stage to open with a few words.
Allison Gopnik, a psychologist, studied how babies and young children could actually perceive the world on a far more heightened level than those who are older. Kind of reminded me of an old movie ‘Baby Geniuses’. If there’s one way to find out what they were thinking, she put forward a probable solution: a bowl of broccoli and a bowl of crackers. How do they even learn so much and why? Allison sought to share results and probable ways in which we could learn more at that stage in life. If only I had chosen to continue my interest in psychology…
Paul Bloom shared his insights on ‘Why do we like what we like?” and the desires and pleasures that follow it. taking origins seriously is because we are snobs; essentialists (responses are beliefs); pleasures are deep; simple ones are surprisingly deep; beliefs subliminally associate the pleasure; utility; he even put up a reference to a pair of shoes – the very one’s that were thrown at George W Bush in Iraq, with an unconfirmed report that a Saudi offered to pay $10 million for them.
If anything, it’s the sentiment in objects that really highlight how we attach ourselves to such inanimate things and the pleasures elicited from owning them. It wasn’t pleasure as well, as pain serves to counterbalance it. To end his talk, Paul shared a few words of the mind: “The mind is a place of Heaven in Hell or Hell in Heaven”.
Paul Zak, or ‘Dr. Love’ as he is referred, unlocks the truth of helping to make the world a beter place by bringing out the level of oxytocin locked within our brain. He likes to call it the ‘moral molecule’. Picking up a syringe that contains the moral molecule, and within seconds he disperses it into the room. He claims that it’s a shy molecule, and needs a stimulus to produce it. Stating that it’s produced in the brain and blood, he looked for a way to get it flowing within people. Talking about trustworthiness, he discovered that it had a positive correlation with prosperity. Higher trustworthiness meant more prosperous living. Using social media doubles the production of oxytocin; one result came out that people releasing oxytocin are happier. He ended with one thing: if we want to be happy, then hugging is one of the best ways to keep that level up and he recommends 8 hugs a day. That would make the world a happier place.
Todd Kuiken, who helps to pioneer neuroprosthetics, helps to revive the sense of feeling and completeness for those who have lost limbs. His motivation that amputations cause a huge disability as it makes it challenging on our daily routine. This ripples into the impact on emotions and the societal perceptions. You could say that using the wonders of robotics that can easily mesh with the nervous system of the human being.
The brain could be the easiest way to help mirror the movements of limbs, but he used the approach of chest muscles to tap into the nervous system. That not only helped to reprogram his brain to assume that the hand still exists, but also helped to revive the muscle movements of the chest when arms were still part of the body. As an example, he brought onto stage a patient that uses this new technique. That didn’t stop there, as he chose to go further and also get fingers to move along with the elbow and joint movements.
Marco Tempest returns back to the stage by popular demand. This time, he’s armed with nothing but 3 iPod Touches and tells us a story on deception. Weaving his hands and the iPods as they mesmerized our senses, it almost felt like he used augmented reality. Talk about fusing technology with traditional magic.
Dr. Abraham Verghese, a practicing physician who also teaches at Stanford, advocates for high-level of medicine that doesn’t require any form of protocol checks just to verify something that can be done without any time-consuming practices; He sees medicine as a ritual at the heart of patient and physician relationship, where both have a role to play. Rather than just using modern day advances, he views the one thing that can have the most impact on a patient: power of the human hand. Someone also told him that rituals are transformations from one state to another and makes it that important.
Bringing Day 4 to a close, everyone packed out of the social spaces and the presentation area. Some chose to head back to the hotels to switch to more evening appropriate wear while the rest forged on to the Sheraton for the evening party. Quite a packed place in contrast to my Day 0 adventure when we used the exact same space for unconference activities with other TEDx organizers.
You can see Day 4 in the following story:
That leaves only one more day before the curtains drop on ‘The Stuff Of Life’.