Every self-respecting nerd, closet or otherwise, knows about TED Talks. They know that the unique format of the presentations have the ability to fascinate, persuade, inspire, humor or simply inform. Just as real-life technological innovation never slows down, never accepts its achievements as finite or complete, TED aims to push boundaries to deliver a message about innovation that is bigger than the innovations themselves. The speakers at this week’s TED Conference in Vancouver remind us about the unique nature of storytelling in technology, which is not just about making audiences think, but about inspiring action and causing actual change.
South African journalist Toby Shapshak gave a talk on day two on how the simplest mobile technology can have the greatest impact for driving innovation in Africa, bringing the continent into the modern age. He argues that while the United States is home to revolutionary companies like Google and Twitter, most Americans would rather use Facebook than create it. Africa innovates for survival. Africa innovates by necessity. When the necessity to innovate for survival is lost, innovation moves to the periphery.
There is some truth to this argument, but many of the other talks remind us that while the West has built a society eager to consume technology, we are not a one-dimensional economic machine. Public policy expert Anne-Marie Slaughter gave a great talk about improving workplace equality, and the role that has in improving society much more than the next hot gadget. Researcher Daniel Riesel talks about scientific research of the brain, discussing how greater understanding of biology will allow our justice system to reform a criminal beyond the traditional limits of incarceration. Mary Lou Jepsen talks about how the same advances can help us improve creativity in education to raise future generations of students eager to create and innovate.
Since 1984, TED Talks have explored the impact of technology, entertainment and design on social innovation, becoming the leading platform shaping the oral history of our times – inciting excitement for the future and making us feel encouraged about where the planet is headed. We can’t help but admire the fact that the simple act of storytelling has developed into a thriving community of thinkers and doers. Here’s to human achievement!