I remember when I was fifteen, and TED Talks were becoming really popular. If you were interesting, you watched TED. They were an easy way to learn a little about a lot. However, about two months ago, I came to the realization that TED Talks don’t do their job.
This realization came to me when a teacher of mine decided to show a TED Talk, which had to do with philosophy, in class. The talk itself wasn’t wrong, but it completely borrowed ideas from philosophers all the while not saying where those ideas came from. At the end of the video, we split into groups and I heard a lot of my classmates say how interesting and fresh they found the talk to be. The problem was that what they were hearing was only a fraction of a whole idea. They didn’t know where the idea came from, let alone that there were other possible outlooks to it.
The point of TED is to give insight to people on innovative ideas that they might not learn about otherwise – and I think that’s definitely a commendable goal to keep in mind… but they’re doing it wrong. Ted Talks that involve a speaker talking about an “idea” are made for people to hear a quick and easy opinion told to them in a way that makes it sound brilliant. TED Talks have made people lazy by making them feel like they’re learning something just because of the way they’re being told.
It’s a gimmick; they hook in a viewer who doesn’t know much about a subject, leaving them feeling like they know all they need to know. Problem is, no one ACTUALLY learns anything just by watching a 10-minute video of a person speaking about their experiences.
Having people explain smart ideas in a way that a majority can understand is a good thing, and I’m all for it – but TED goes way beyond this. They over simplify ideas in a way that the listener can swallow them up without even chewing. Having everyone know a little more about things, and think differently is definitely a solution to one of the world’s problems – but the way that TED goes about this is only feeding into a new problem. No one is asking questions beyond the initial idea anymore because they’re being spoon-fed information at the most basic level.
I recently read an article about a scientist who gave a presentation, who later had someone in the audience say that they should be more like TED talks. That’s terrifying, if you ask me. TED is gearing to a generation of people who only care about what they’re hearing if they feel entertained while listening to it. The world is not run on the model of a variety show, and philosophy, science, art and activism should not be judged as such.
What makes this more ironic is that the first comment on the article stated, “I got bored and quit.” That’s the point. That’s it. If you want to take what I’m saying to the most basic level, people listening to TED talks do not want to know more. They don’t think, “Hey, this is inspiring! I’ll go read a book about it now!” They think, “Great, now I know all I need to know, let me go tell everyone about this one idea which must be right because I heard it on a TED talk, and TED talks are serious.” No one is thinking skeptically, no one is asking questions, no one is looking for anything more than a 10-minute video that will lead to 3 seconds of eye opening wonder, at which point they turn back to their episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. No offence, I’ll be the first to admit that that show is entertaining. The problem is, that all we care about is being entertained – it’s not a reward, but rather the only thing we do.
TED talks are the punch line without any of the buildup. They’re a weak orgasm without the foreplay. TED epitomizes our dependence on a dose of quick and simple solutions when it comes to complex problems. TED is popular entertainment confused with insightful information. While it generates exposure, it’s a placebo, which in the end might end up doing more harm than good.