Re: This guy is a mega-idiot.

1

So TED talks were hip, then it was hip to hate on TED talks, and now it's hip to hate on TED talk haters?

This is making me dizzy.

It's still OK for me to dislike TED talks despite never having listened to one, right?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:36 AM
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To be fair, that essay was originally a TED talk, so what can you expect, really.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:37 AM
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(The "entertainment" in TED actually refers to the entertainment industry, I think, as opposed to TED talks being per se an entertainment product. Anyhoo!)


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:37 AM
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It's ok to hate TED talks! But not disproportionately to what they are, which is pop academics with pretty widespread appeal. It's kind of like hating Oprah's Book Club. She's getting lots of people to read and chat and enjoy themselves! It's okay!


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:39 AM
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4: that's not what he's saying, though, is it? He's saying that TED talks are pernicious, because they make people (especially people who could potentially fund science) think that all science is (or should be) like TED talks.

Which... I dunno, he kind of has a point. The degree to which funding levels and the ability to give a good, peppy, general-interest talk are correlated seems like it might be pretty high, and that might be bad for getting money to researchers who actually know what they're doing.

I mean speaking personally I feel pretty good about this situation, since I think my ability to give a good, peppy general-interest talk is likely to outstrip my ability to be a single-mindedly obsessed researcher. But societally, you understand.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:43 AM
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5: He's saying that TED talks are a recipe for the end of civilization. Because he's trying to be so saucy and contrarian that he can't just say "massive cuts in arts and sciences are responsible for massive cuts in arts and sciences."


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:47 AM
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I mean yes, TED talks are terrible fundraisers for science...because it's idiotic to have a system that requires shaking down dumb rich people to fund science.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:51 AM
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I'm not very sympathetic to the argument that trying to be interesting is an offense against those who can not be interesting. It would require hating on Carl Sagan for interesting books while admiring the script for the unwatchable movie Contact.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:52 AM
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7: well, sure. And TED talks are merely a symptom of that. But... that's still kind of terrible! And it would be good if the kind of people who liked TED talks knew that it was terrible! I do think there's something to the idea that the sort of panglossian optimism of the TED house style can blind people to the fact that doing actual research in this country is hard and has recently gotten a lot harder.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:56 AM
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TED has the exact same implicit ideology as National Geographic. It's a combination of pop science and feel-good imperialism.

Like any middle-brow enterprise, it is easy to hate on. But you have to remember, pop science and feel good imperialism is a big step up for a lot of people, who live in a world of religious superstition and imperialism that doesn't even try to treat colonized people with any humanity.

I show TED talks to my students all the time. If I can get them to accept some cartoon version of evolution and practice moderate, self-congratulating altruism, I have actually done some educating.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:57 AM
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8: the whole Babylonian Sex Tourist Theme Park subplot in the book was pretty damn strange, though. I don't blame them for excising it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 7:58 AM
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Yeah, I've seen this linked by all sorts of people who typically criticize techno-futurists and pie-in-the-sky TED dreamers. But, um, the criticism here is that TED is not futurist and dreamy enough.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:01 AM
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11: I was thinking of his nonfiction books when I was talking of the good stuff. But really, what was his TV show but a proto-TED.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:03 AM
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I admit, reading that entire essay, the dude's actual ideas per se sound pretty stupid ("We need a deeper conversation about the difference between digital cosmopolitanism and cloud feudalism (and toward that, a queer history of computer science and Alan Turing's birthday as holiday!" what). But the criticism of TED in the first few paragraphs doesn't bug me.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:06 AM
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13: I dunno, one thing about his TV show is that it was thirteen hours, as opposed to five minutes, long.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:07 AM
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Actually, I quite like speakers who convey science to a popular audience. Or did when I was younger. I've not seen an actual TED talk except the one on tying shoe laces.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:12 AM
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Every fun, innocuous thing is secretly pernicious. Everybody knows that.


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:12 AM
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15: Back then, I had more free time and far fewer other choices for viewing.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:14 AM
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If anybody wants to give me a TED talk to show me up for being a hypocrite I'm down.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:21 AM
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I've watched two TED talks, but they were both just guys beatboxing so I don't have anything informative to say about the medium.


Posted by: apostropher | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:28 AM
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TED talks range from the completely shitty to the moderately great. There's nothing wrong with middlebrow media. If anything it's the highbrow stuff that's a steaming pile of dingo shit. Deliberately obscure, pretentious, self-absorbed, arrogant crap. Give me a good dose of plain old Carl Sagan over Some "challenging" highbrow POS any day.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:36 AM
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A few years ago people started organizing "science cafe" events where someone would give a popular talk about his or her research at a local coffee shop or pub.
I think those worked out pretty well (I'm not sure if they still go on).

The TED phenomenon has an odor of glib techno-libertarianism about it that the science cafes didn't (at least for me). I tend to think of TED enthusiasts as the sort of people who would have enthusiasts for Wired magazine in the late 90s.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:38 AM
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22: would have = would have been


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:39 AM
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I'm not sure how "____ is entertainment" provides the absolution that we poor sinners are seeking, but it's nice that something does.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:42 AM
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22.1: this (now national, I think?) event fits that sort of description. I might sign up for one because I think they pay you in beer.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:49 AM
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Everything sucks and humanity is deservedly doomed. There's no compelling reason to differentiate between TED, literature, situation comedies and Japanese movies. They are all just ways of marking time until the inevitable apocalypse.


Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:51 AM
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There is now a TED hour on NPR, which combines the glib optimism of the talks with the gimmickry of Radiolab and throws in an announcer who makes his voice all squeaky whenever he asks a rhetorical question, which is quite often. It's the worst thing ever.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:52 AM
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I will totally go to the mat to defend Wired in the '90s because they were clever enough to publish stories about/pictures of lots of my friends.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 8:53 AM
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5.2: I think I'm not bad at giving a pretty good peppy, general-interest talk, and yet I can't get funding. Hmm.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:03 AM
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it's idiotic to have a system that requires shaking down dumb rich people to fund science.

True, but funding science by dumb rich people is both traditional (e.g. "MOST SERENE PRINCE, I consider it my greatest good fortune that You allow me to adorn this work of mine with YOUR most honourable name.") and the fall-back plan for rampant libertarianism. It's good to keep the begging skills fresh.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:08 AM
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30: Sure, but it still doesn't make sense to blame TED talks for any of that.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:10 AM
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It's off-topic, but I'm annoyed by the NSF's totally internally inconsistent funding decisions. My program director actually called me and apologized for not funding my proposal, saying it would easily have been funded if my outreach proposal (participating in a well-established Boston-area outreach thing in high schools) was more "creative" and "original". Then I found out the guy down the hall from me was just awarded a grant, and he used exactly the same outreach component I applied with.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:12 AM
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Do you have any theorems you can name after billionaires?


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:15 AM
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Sure. TED Talks can be annoying but surely aren't All That Is Wrong With Science.

The Slim/Gates/Abramovich Twin Prime Theorem?


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:19 AM
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I will totally go to the mat to defend Wired in the '90s because they were clever enough to publish stories about/pictures of lots of my friends.

I did specify the late 90s, if that helps.

I can't pin down the exact moment at which Wired went from "sort of fun" to "sort of annoying", but I think it was somewhere during that period.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:27 AM
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32: they liked it because it was tried and true and a guaranteed winner.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:34 AM
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I remember earnest discussions on the occasion of Wired's first issue about how they were kind of painfully corporate in a lot of ways but on the other hand Mondo 2000's strategy of not paying their authors was not going to work out long term.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:35 AM
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Defend Wired all you like, I suppose, but let Mondo 2000 sink into history's dustbin as it deserves.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:36 AM
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but let Mondo 2000 sink into history's dustbin as it deserves.

Along with those hilarious "virtual reality" tour buses that were visiting college campuses around that time...


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:40 AM
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I fucking loved that one Virtuality game (googling) "Dactyl Nightmare"! Not, as you might expect, about poetic meter.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:43 AM
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About fingers?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:47 AM
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Mondo 2000 was awesome. So was Omni. You people just weren't doing the right drugs.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 9:51 AM
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27: The TED Radio Hour came on after another program on my local NPR's stream, and I did entertain staying tuned in ... for about 30 seconds of the Hour. I couldn't even make it past the theme music.

I will grant that the sound designer wins points for relevance; the grating music was at least as peppy and technophile as the TED house style.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 10:01 AM
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As for:

I submit that astrophysics run on the model of American Idol is a recipe for civilizational disaster.

Are there any actual examples of TED talks somehow leading to research being funded? It's not as if TED is paying postdoc salaries or anything.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 10:03 AM
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||

Ttam's reservations about solo jazz guitar will surely not apply to this "Summertime" or this "When Your Lover Has Gone".

|>


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 10:22 AM
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44: That got me thinking, so I checked Kickstarter -- they don't even have a category for physics. What's wrong with you scientists? It's good enough for Spike Lee and Zach Braff, but it's not good enough for you?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 10:28 AM
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46: One of the stretch goals could be "get an equation named after you."


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 10:30 AM
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46: this what you're looking for?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 10:47 AM
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Get on it, Essear!


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 10:47 AM
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48: It is! And that even has a physics category!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 10:52 AM
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Doesn't everybody work on projects funded by multi-year government grants?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 11:07 AM
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That is, everybody in science.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 11:09 AM
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The Slim/Gates/Abramovich Twin Prime Theorem?

The Winklevoss Twin Prime Theorem, surely?

That got me thinking, so I checked Kickstarter -- they don't even have a category for physics. What's wrong with you scientists?

Kickstarter is at least supposed to be about creative projects, even if a lot of it is pretty damn commercial. I think explicitly scientific research oriented projects wouldn't be eligible. They don't overtly ban it, but they say something must be produced at the end of the project (I guess a paper counts?) and everything must fit into one of their categories, of which only technology comes close.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 11:10 AM
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I suppose you could classify some astronomical research as photography.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 11:11 AM
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because it's idiotic to have a system that requires shaking down dumb rich people to fund science.

I was going to gesture to essear and the question of what to wear as a proof, but after reading about his NSF experience it doesn't feel as light. Sorry to hear that the inconsistent rules, & the people who create them, screwed you on your proposal.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 11:11 AM
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I agree that science funding is a problem as it stands, but even in a theoretical government funded science utopia, people still have to sell their project, either to higher-ups or to reviewers. I think (like rob says in 10) that pretty much anything that sells science to the public is a good thing - they should feel like it's a worthwhile expenditure. The thing that drives me totally nuts is how oversold a lot of stuff is (Personalized medicine! Nanotechnology! Translational research!) and how the caveats or difficulties get elided in order to better sell the project or idea to nonspecialists.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 11:39 AM
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56.last: I agree entirely, especially with TED's reliance on narrative that encourages its speakers to sand away the inconsistencies and problems that year-to-year scientific progress is about.


Posted by: Klug | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 11:51 AM
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48: Huh. I would have thought it would be hard to get universities to go along with that, given their "no overhead" rule.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 1:13 PM
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58: I have no idea how well (or if) it actually works.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 1:23 PM
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56.last and 57 remind me that I should ask a question of those of you who have actually seen TED talks. I haven't watched any; I've let nearly all viral videos pass me by - even types I would probably find unobjectionable if I weren't being a curmudgeon about the medium.

One of the things I've grumped about, in my ignorance, is that TED talkers seem too credulous about their theses or evidence. It makes seeming sense to blame this impression I have on the self-promoting elements in 56.last, the pre-production incentives in 57, and post-production marketing,* but does the content of TED talks (or a prominent subset of them) also reflect an over-credulous attitude?

*And on my general inclination to judge certain people in my life for being over-credulous.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 1:23 PM
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I've only seen a few TED talks -- a couple by artists (fine) and a couple by people whose research I'm actually assigning to my students to read; that's nice because they get the details in the reading, the researcher is usually someone I respect, and the students can get a better sense of what the stimuli and participant responses actually look/sound like.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 1:28 PM
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60.2: it depends on the talk.

The biggest problem with TED talks (now that I am not taking the side of the dude in the OP) is lack of quality control.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 1:28 PM
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We had the students in our class this semester watch (part of) a TEDx talk. It was a quite good five minute overview of fairly complicated research that can't really quite be done justice in five minutes. But it was pretty good.

On the other hand there's this.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 1:30 PM
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62.1 is presumably the only practical answer to what wasn't necessarily a well-framed question on my part, and from listening to more grounded complaints than mine I believe 62.2.

I do still wonder if there's a pattern - if, say, the set of more-problematic talks includes more over-credulous presenters than over-skeptical ones - but really I'm not in any position to find it.


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 1:38 PM
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The one non-negotiable requirement of a TED talk is to make the audience feel good about themselves by the end of the talk. I don't mind that when it's a science talk, because the presenter is sharing more science information than I'm likely to get without the talk and so I might as well get flattered into self congratulation -- "Wow, this result is neat and I understand it a little." It's worse when the talk is about some political or social issue and the solution proposed (TED talks always propose solutions when there's a problem) is inadequate or unrealistic. It's not bad in small doses, where there's a genuinely inspiring narrative of either personal or social progress.


Posted by: Bave | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 2:30 PM
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57. As we all know, scientific progress goes "boink!"


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 2:46 PM
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Bave gets it exactly right in 65.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 2:49 PM
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I prefer this piece of TED-bashing, just for the viciousness.


Posted by: x.trapnel | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 2:58 PM
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66: A shame that it doesn't go "BAM!" or some other such nonsense.


Posted by: Klug | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 3:57 PM
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The one non-negotiable requirement of a TED talk is to make the audience feel good about themselves by the end of the talk.

Hmmm, that makes me think that I've seen more TEDx talks than TED talks (and haven't watched that many of either) because that definitely isn't true all the time.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 3:57 PM
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69: I think you need to read through the complete Calvin and Hobbes.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 4:01 PM
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71: Apparently I do.


Posted by: Klug | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 4:24 PM
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This is the best TED ever.


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 4:49 PM
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http://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_suburbia.html


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 4:49 PM
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http://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_suburbia.html


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 12-31-13 4:49 PM
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I dunno I kind of agree with the OP.

The distinction the Morazov attack in 68 makes is kind of useful - what the heck is going on in the room? Of course because it is Morazov he can't help then descending into a frenzy of rhetorical bloodlust.

I mean the talks themselves can be fine, I've quite liked some if them, they appeal to my inner middlebrow techno positivist I guess. And that's pretty innocuous or nice for the mass audience on YouTube. But what the heck is the audience thinking? Are they sort of half tuned in like listening to BBC4 while driving? - or do they think they are changing the world with this very expensive ticket? - or?

Because if it's the latter I thought it wasn't such a bad reset of the TED agenda. Which, sure, is the wired agenda plus 20 years .. I suspect there a lot of people around TED who think it is more than a glorified discovery channel even if that's what it is. Where else would you try to get the interest of that audience?


Posted by: conflated | Link to this comment | 01- 1-14 5:02 AM
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I haven't watched any [TED talks]...
One of the things I've grumped about, in my ignorance, is that TED talkers seem too credulous about their theses or evidence.

Try not to trip on your predispositions. Of course you wouldn't, because savvy.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 01- 1-14 9:04 AM
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68: gosh, Morozov really isn't very bright, is he.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 01- 3-14 4:48 AM
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77: Eh. I know the contradiction is there. I wasn't defensive enough about it, I guess, but I was aware that my breezy "hypothesis" came only from such scattered and vague impressions as I could get while shrugging off the whole phenomenon for other reasons entirely.

(Notably, those reasons include my belief that I would not be very savvy about catching substantive errors embedded in a popularizing video made by accomplished performers and editors.)


Posted by: joyslinger | Link to this comment | 01- 3-14 10:43 PM
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