TEDster – noun. A person who attends a TED conference.
Attending the TED conference is like drinking from a fire hose; while TED talks are between 8-19 minutes long, the conference is a full 5 days. There are two-hour sessions 2-3 times a day, where you hear 6- 8 speakers in a row.
The theme for the conference was The Future You. And while there was a lot of talk about robots and drones of the near-term and future, it was balanced with the human side of things and the importance of community and connection. The topics ranged from artificial intelligence, art and music, healthcare, and climate change, to compassion and heartbreak, microbes and pond scum, refugees, and community. Speakers were not run-of-the-mill, but top in the field, extraordinary individuals doing amazing work like Pope Francis, the Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Shah Rukh Kahn, Tim Ferriss, Serena Williams, and Elon Musk. The full line-up can be found here.
A few of my favorite sessions were:
Vanessa Garrison and T. Morgan Dixon – two friends who started a non-profit called GirlTrek, the largest public health nonprofit for African-American women and girls in the United States. Invoking the spirits of their foremothers and Harriet Tubman, they spoke about why and how they get black women out walking in their neighborhoods – for their personal health as well as social change. Throughout American history, black women walked to organize their communities and speak out against injustices. Their talk was powerful and brought the audience to their feet.
Titus Kaphar – an artist that spoke about race and equity in art as seen through the eyes of his young son, and how art has historically marginalized people of color. He painted for us as he talked about why you can’t erase history, but how you can obscure the power depicted through art to bring into focus the people who were oppressed. A beautiful performance.
Devita Davison – a food activist from Detroit whom I’ve been raving about since last year when I first heard her speak at a planning conference. She is working with a team to make Detroit a food sovereign city, and helping people of color become entrepreneurs. Devita took us on a tour of her hometown showing us community gardens where residents came to know their farmers, and where neighbors band together to obliterate food deserts and build community. She comes from a long lineage of preachers and her talk showed it – the passion and conviction with which she spoke was infectious.
There were many more on art and music, climate change, and human connection – but those will come in a later post. In the meantime, look up Raj Panjabi, Emily Esfahani Smith, Daan Roosegaarde, Anna Rosling Rônnlund, Kate Marvel, Guy Winch, Anab Jain, Anna Herringer, Ashton Applewhite, Helen Pearson, Susan Pinker, Anthony Romero, Laolu Senbanjo, Jacob Collier, Lil Buck, Huang Yi, Anne Madden, David Whyte, and Manoush Zomorodi.
The TED experience was exhilarating and inspiring. In an interview, Elon Musk (who talked about colonizing Mars, a tunnel/highway under LA to get people out of traffic, and autonomous vehicles) was asked what inspired him. He said, “I’m not trying to be anyone’s savior. I’m just trying to think about the future and not be sad.” I get that. But I’m also sad he feels that way, because when I think of the future, I’m hopeful, not sad. I think the future holds much beauty and promise. There was talk about inclusivity and resilience at the conference, and I’m glad to have had this past week to think about what that means for The Future Us.