TED 2011 is off to a powerful start. We've had two great sessions of TED University and three sessions on the Main Stage addressing the theme of Rediscovering Wonder. It was fabulous.
Although TED has always put considerable thought into stage design, it's not been a part of TED that has really made a huge impact on me personally. That changed this year. The whole background of the stage (and it's a vast area) is a rear projection area, with huge, unbelievably crisp images. During the first session, called Monumental, the backdrop was a picture of a star-filled sky - very fitting since the conference opened with a message from Cady Coleman, pre-recorded a couple of days ago from the Space Station. The TED conference is being livestreamed up there. The screen and speaking area are framed by two gigantic tree-shaped sculptures. Cosmology and biology.
The opening session was amazing. The star (by my informal survey and my own personal vote) was Canadian Paul Nicklen, a National Geographic photographer with a passion for the Arctic and Antarctic (a bipolar photographer). He showed us gorgeous photographs and explained his passion about saving the polar ice. The host Chris Anderson had talked earlier about his concern that the TED Standing Ovation was being devalued because once a few people stood, everyone else felt shamed into standing. He urged people to only stand up if they really felt moved. He pointed out that there was no problem with a Partial Standing O, because talks are received differently by different people. Even after this exhortation, Paul received a Full Standing O. The first of the conference. I wanted to wave a Canadian flag!
Some of his gorgeous photos are here on the left and at the top.
Another talk that I really enjoyed was by Eric Whitacre, classical composer and conductor, and organizer of the famous Virtual Choir on YouTube, singing his composition Lux Aurumque. Whitacre has movie-star good looks, and eloquently related how a Nebraska boy with a yen to be a rock star was thunderstruck by his first experience of Bach in a choir at U of Nebraska. Whitaker treated us to a premiere of the beginning of his next Virtual Choir performance, involving over 900 singers. I guess everyone else liked him too, because he got a Full Standing O.
I don't know how long ago TED booked the Founder of Al Jazeera as a speaker, but Wadah Khanfa's talk was incredibly timely. Khanfa's 43 years old, and the same rulers had been in power in the region for his whole life. He was clearly exhilarated with the fact that educated youth were responsible for regime change, rather than outside forces as in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was proud that Al Jazeera was playing a part by 'protecting' the protesters, who felt that the presence of TV cameras was a deterrent to bloody quelling of the protests. He is full of optimism that the regime changes will happen without a descent into chaos as in Afghanistan and Iraq, because the revolutions were from within. I'm sure many others in the audience joined me in a fervent hope that he is right, although the fact that he 'only' got about 60% SO means that there were skeptics in the room! His talk was the first one up on TED.com here.
Session 2 and 3 summaries will have to wait for another day, since it's late at night, after a wonderful after-party jam session this evening. They need to make a special concession on TED week, and extend the day to 36 hours! Sigh. But then the TED organizers would just fill it with more activities.