Trying to keep up with this insanely stimulating conference is proving to be the challenge that all excellent conferences should be. I’ll start Day 4 with a nod of recognition to the town of Banff as my brain catches up. The vegetation is about 6 weeks behind La Crosse. We had lilacs, tulips, peonies, and other early spring flowering plants back in mid May. Here, those same plants are in full bloom now, late June. And it snowed in Banff last week. Below, notice the edible urban landscape (rhubarb, raspberries, chives) and granite, non-edible, enhanced sculpture, the street signs, both in English and French, that celebrate events, including the right to vote for women. Nice.
Because I had removed the cardio-fusion from my morning routine, I was free to enjoy my hotel’s omelette bar and hike up to the centre in time for the morning break-out session #1. There are puppies in Banff! Here is vanilla and chocolate.
As for the breakout sessions, I had originally signed up for one about how to move from idea to action, but when I saw that one of my rockstar TED talkers was hosting another one down the hall about “breakout stories”, I asked to switch, and happily crashed that party.
Eli Pariser, activist, and founder of MoveOn.org, is best known in TED-land for his talk on filter bubbles, which are algorithms that feed our internet searches based on past and current online behavior. My colleague Liz and I show his talk to all of our college-bound high school seniors who come to our Gaining Ground college readiness program. He’s a great public speaker, so he could have been reading from a phone book and I would have wanted to at least listen to part of it. I regressed to a teenager for a few minutes, got the photo, and settled in for a fascinating exchange on the power of stories.
Pariser has created another agency for change called Upworthy, which is somewhat of a logical step from the concept of filter bubbles and all of the “info junk food” that fills our screens, inboxes, sidebars, and minds. For the skeptics among us, it’s not always an easy pill to swallow, but according to researchers and hundred’s of studies, our brains do not assimilate knowledge by ingesting facts alone. The facts are always surrounded by anecdotes and narratives, which we need in order to process and remember the facts. According to Pariser, to think otherwise means you are in denial. It’s a hard one to pitch in this day and age of opinion and emotionally saturated news and media. Sometimes it’s just good to have the facts and decide for yourself. Eli is using the power of stories as a tool for social change. Think of Voyager’s final mission, recorded on a gold disc and sent out to the universe to inform whoever or whatever, of our human story. Carl Sagan helped to curate the content in our message in a bottle. It won’t leave you indifferent.
Michael Shermer, skeptic, is known in the TED world for his talk on why people believe weird things, especially supernatural and pseudoscientific claims. Some people who just want to believe would either consider him a heretic, or a buzzkill. Founder of The Skeptics Society and editor in chief of its magazine Skeptic, I think that he and my husband would become fast buddies. I liked this session, because at work, I constantly try and find the teaching moment with my college freshmen as to why critical thinking skills are so necessary. But they’re very resistant and I do feel like I regularly burst their bubble. After listening to Shermer, I feel empowered to head back with more resources, especially in this election year. According to Shermer and studies on IQ, the human race is generationally becoming smarter. So Millenials, it’s going to be up to you to figure it all out. Voltaire said, that those who believe in absurdities go on to commit atrocities. Brrr. That sends shivers up and down.
Main stage TED talks “Building Blocks”
Don Tapscott, digital strategist. This is a hard one to report on, because this new technology is young, and relatively untested, but has enormous potential to change the way that we have been carrying out transactions and exchanging values of all kinds for hundreds of years. According to Tapscott, and other digital strategists, this new technology will be the most influential technology in our lives over the next decades–the next generation of internet. And it’s called…”blockchains”. Bitcoin is one example of crypto-currency. The concept is not easy to sum up. I’ll try. It will be a peer-to-peer method of exchange without the traditional middleman of banks, institutions, credit card companies, and other agencies which are open to hacking, exclusive and closed to many people, slow, greedy, and which undermine our privacy. We’ve seen the results: increased wealth in the hands of few and increased inequality. This “blockchain” technology will be fast and moveable, extremely secure, and much more capable, without the traditional hierarchy that we have today. We will create “smart contracts” to protect our assets, our money, our intellectual property, our personal data. We will create immutable records that will protect contracts (think land contracts in underdeveloped countries so that dictators cannot take land away); we will end the remittance ripoff; we will recapture our own digital “crumbs” that we unknowingly leave behind (did you know that the virtual you today is not owned by you?); and creators of value (inventions, art, music, etc) will ensure their just compensation (royalties) by creating smart contracts to protect and control. Hard to imagine, eh? Let’s turn to our good friend Wikipedia for more info on blockchains.
Bettina Warburg, blockchain researcher. When the TED tribal elders first learned about blockchains, they realized that this was going to be big, and they needed to give it more attention. So we had a second talk on blockchains by this researcher who for now is working with governments as the first type of institution that will start to work with them. Again, the speaker gave us a very thorough talk on blockchains and what they are not: they are not an app; they are not a company; they are somewhat like a wikipedia–a constantly changing and trackable open platform, unhackable, secured and locked by replicated cryptography. This is a revolution, folks. And it’s fueled by our own mistrust of each other. Institutions will be collapsed and the human intervention pushed out. It’s a technology in its infancy, but our mutual distrust is what will keep it working, decentralized, secure, open, transparent, and fast. Questions? Follow it in the news.
Other speakers that we heard tonight (I’m going to condense)
Joe Lassiter, energy scholar who enthusiastically shared his research and concerns on developing clean, secure and carbon-neutral energy supplies.
Michael Shellenberger, climate policy expert. Another amazing talk on clean energies and the worrisome situation of increasing fossil fuel usage and commitments in developing countries (China and India); the merits of nuclear energy and how its unmerited “bad guy” disapproval rating has created panic and rejection and fearing the wrong things.
Tim Leberecht, business romantic. Yes indeed, you read that correctly. Leberecht has a dream, and that is to bring beauty back into corporations. As machines replace humans create data, and make the tasks more efficient, Leberecht calls for humans to make beauty. How’s that? People are listening to him out in Silicon Valley. Here’s a TED taste.
Julia Bacha, Brazilian filmmaker. Bacha is all about documenting via film, and about non-violent resolutions to conflict. Spending time in Palestine and studying the nature of conflict, she claims that the increased role of women in public life is directly associated to non-violent resistance to combat conflict. It is not that women are necessarily less violent. It is that women experience power differently, and find alternatives. Western media coverage of conflict and resolution blatantly ignores what is already happening when women in public life start non-violent resistance actions and movements. She calls for the newsfeed to reconsider.
See TED notes of the whole evening here.