Thursday, November 15, 2012

TED and the Enlightenment

TED's just hit a billion!  One billion views of those magical talks about big ideas.  In a world characterized by an insatiable appetite for salacious gossip about celebrities, TED talks have been viewed one billion times.  Wow.
TED set out to celebrate Ideas Worth Spreading.  And, as they say on the web site, "an idea, when received by a prepared mind, can have extraordinary impact".

Having just studied the Enlightenment in my World History course on Coursera, this TED milestone really got me thinking.  Everything about TED echoes the intellectual ferment in 18th Century Europe known as the Enlightenment*.

Enlightenment thinkers believed there were natural laws - about science, politics, technology, sociology -  that governed the way the world worked, and that those laws were discoverable by men who were all born with the ability to reason. (It took longer for general acknowledgement that women might also be capable of reason!)  One could/should rely on these natural laws - determined through observation and experimentation - to explain the world rather than relying on religious or classical texts or absolute rulers.  Men should be free and should participate in governing themselves.

Moreover, it was your duty to spread these ideas and influence everyone to live by the tenets discovered. That spread was enabled by the increased availability of books, the establishment of scientific societies, publication of scientific journals, and the collision of ideas and debate in informal settings like coffee houses and salons.  Ideas flowed both geographically - indeed bringing those ideas to other parts of the world was used as a justification for colonization - and vertically through different strata of society with the increase in literacy.  As our professor put it, ideas were packaged up for easy dissemination and thus became commoditized.

TED's dedication to Ideas Worth Spreading is highly evocative of these Enlightenment ideas.   Clearly, there's the dedication to ideas, from all spheres of human endeavour.  And there is a passion to spread those ideas to as many people as possible. enabled the spread of those ideas well beyond the confines of the fortunate few who attend TED.  TEDx conferences empowered people who love ideas to create local conferences, and add to the cauldron of ideas that is the TED community.

Bravo TED and Chris Anderson, whose passion is behind this incredible phenomenon known as TED.

*  Here's a link to a description of what Coursera's all about.  And you can look here, herehere and here for my feeble efforts to summarize lectures to help consolidate my own learning.  I'm way behind.

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