Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Some Poignant Moments at TED

As well as the powerful intellectual stimulation, there are talks to stir the soul and fire the emotions. There were several very poignant moments at TED this year.

Peter Diamandis, best known as founder and Chair of the XPrize for space flight, is also Chairman of Zero Gravity Corporation which offers weightless flights to the general public. He described Stephen Hawking’s weightless flight. It was wonderful to see the photos of a joyous Hawking floating in space – doubly touching to see someone with such a disability there, and the person who has told us so much about the universe. The considerable medical staff on the plane approved 8 weightless parabolae for Hawking, way beyond the expectation of two or three at the best.

David Hoffman, a documentary film maker, gave touching 3 minute talk about a fire at his home which destroyed his huge collection of films and photographs, some of them the only copy of some of his films. With pictures of photos singed around the edges showing on the screen, he said how interesting they looked, and mused that his next project might be about Bits and Pieces. A brief tale on the triumph of the human spirit.

Doris Kearns Goodwin proved that content trumps delivery style, even in the stratified level of TED delivery. Reading a speech from the podium, this biographer of several presidents, narrated stories about Lincoln and Johnson, two Presidents about whom she’s written biographies. Her great admiration for Lincoln shone through, including some great jokes – though her comedic timing left a lot to be desired as she started to speak before the laughter was over! She characterized Lincoln as a man with a passion to make a difference in the world. The most poignant moment was her description of Johnson, as she interviewed him late in life. Although surrounded by a loving family, it was not enough to compensate for his loss of the centre stage, and he was despondent.

TED was originally created by Richard Saul Wurman, who likened it to a conference where all the speakers were people you’d like to attend a dinner party with. After he sold the conference to Chris Anderson six years ago, considerable animosity arose, as Chris moved the conference from a great dinner party to aspiring to be a community that could change the world. The rift was healed in the last year, and Richard once again attended TED. As the two men had a discussion on stage, a tearful Richard (who admits to crying easily) was clearly glad to be back, Chris was choked up to have had the rapprochement, and there were plans for new collaboration, like the creation of a Best of TED DVD celebrating 25 years of TED next year, to which Richard will contribute the best of the early years. Richard’s latest project is 19/20/21, to somehow bring together thoughts about the world’s 19 largest cities, with 20 M people each, in the 21st century.

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