TED Talks as an element of dumbing down

by Mr. Sheehy

Problems are not “puzzles” to be solved. That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It’s not true.

“Innovation” defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.

One TED speaker said recently, “If you remove this boundary … the only boundary left is our imagination”. Wrong.

If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation.

Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about “personal stories of inspiration”, it’s about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualisation: the hard stuff that really changes how we think. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins.

Benjamin Bratton’s criticisms of TED Talks remind me of Edward Tufte’s critiques of Power Point, wherein Tufte exposes the limitations of Power Point to convey complex ideas. One underlying problem with the TED Talks is that they’re just that: talks. They don’t kick off a conference or project where a group of intellectuals proceed to dive into reading and analyzing large research papers and data; instead, they talk engagingly, and if they’re funny and dramatic, they’ll create a stir on the Internet. TED Talks are fun to watch, but they’re not going to change anything.