More important than Valleywag‘s mildly controversial publication of TED Conference attendees is my proposed publication of TED non-attendees, which would take a forest of paper and list some 6,499,999,000 of the world’s 6.5 billion people. The non-TED list would have more dumb people than the TED list, but arguably would be on the order of 6.5 million times more representative.
Matt Ingram is *right again* (!) about why the TED conference is, at the same time, an exciting and provocative event and a bunch of elitist nonsense. As an invitation only, $6000 per person conference the idea was to bring together many great innovative minds in the spirit of innovation and understanding, and this is a good idea. However good ideas are not immune to criticism and TED deserves at least a dose of that as well, especially given the fact that almost by design TED insulates the attendees from almost all the real people in the real world.
Matt has spoken for an enormous number of us who are conflicted about how TED is both a showcase and watering hole for some of the sharpest people and ideas on earth and also a den of elitist nonsense.
His criticism is nuanced enough that he won’t be crossed off the prospective list. My concerns are deeper about TED. I think the sensibilities of the TED crowd are not even remotely representative of those of most of the world, and therefore many great minds wind up innovating in the wrong direction or sideways. My view on innovation is that it’s rare for a good evolutionary reason – too much innovation will often undermine stability, which is the hallmark of long term societal viability. Innovation is the cornerstone of positive change for the human species, but we also need people to do more mundane stuff like … producing goods and services in the same old boring ways … at least until an innovator figures out a better way to build the production mousetraps. As a wellspring of innovation TED doesn’t need to focus on producing things, but I’d like them to find a way to better integrate the beneficiaries of the innovation into the process. The developed world has gone to enormous lengths to distance ourselves in mind, body, and spirit from the sensibilities of most people in the world – people for whom a decent meal, warm clothes, and a safe place to sleep are considered a luxury. To it’s credit TED has historically done an excellent job profiling some of the innovations that will help with these problems, but I’m not convinced that the conference lends itself to really understanding the plight of the “rest” of the world.
Bil UNconference organizer Tyler Emerson over at the Singularity Institute reasonably challenged my criticism of TED, but I think I’m standing by it. Until we find ways to fully integrate innovators, movers and shakers with a deeper level of understanding of their fellow travellers in our human journey I see efforts like TED leading us down too many garden paths of “appealing, sexy, exciting” innovations where what we need the most are simple and mundane solutions to problems of food, health, energy, and human conflict. [Yes, TED showcases some of those solutions as well and helps spread the word, which is why I'm conflicted about TED]
I do want to applaud TED for opening up a lot over the past few years via videos and blogging. At least “the rest of us” can now see part of what’s going on behind the curtain. Also, any conference with Marissa Mayer in attendance has GOT to be worthwhile.