Many people in the business world like going to conferences. They are often subsidised by their employers to go, stay in a nice hotel, listen to some ideas, schmooze and go home recharged – either by the ideas, the schmoozing, the hotel or a little of all of the above. Teachers, too, like conferences, though they are often less swish than the business ones – and often pay their own airfare and accommodation.
These conferences have a various array of themes, concepts and types of presentation tools being used. Powerpoints were the rage until recently, replaced in part by videos and the swooshing of Prezi. While business conferences are usually closed door affairs, however, teacher conferences are marked these days by the lines of teachers tweeting what is being said so that their PLN – Professional Learning Network – can read what is being said. These teachers are more than aware that there are many teachers who cannot make conferences, due mainly to cost and family commitments. They tweet so those colleagues and friends can keep up to date. It is not, as many other teachers used to say at such conferences, a “rude thing to do”. It’s the opposite.
I say this because there is another strain of conference concept emerging – the TED talks. Teachers are aware of TED, largely because there’s not a term goes by where teachers see a TED talk being transmitted during an inservice day. This is not a bad thing – TED talks are often excellent, informative and can be inspiring.
What is intriguing, however, is how regional TED talks are organised and run. In 2012, the first TED talk in Sydney (at least, the first of which I was aware), was held at Carriageworks, in Redfern – a relatively low key venue for the ideas being spread. It was a free event, but one had to “apply” for entry with an interesting biography. Each potential audience member had to prove just how interesting they were to be provided entry to the event. The deciding panel therefore became some kind of doormen outside the hottest thought club in town. I wasn’t cool enough – I thought back and realised I should have just made something up. Something like this:
I am a cutting edge thought leader and shaper living in one of the most culturally intriguing parts of Australia’s most cosmopolitan city. I believe ideas are the key to unlocking the potential all of us have in continuing the cultural conversation and defining the paradigms of our age.
On the day, I put the question out as to whether those of us too uncool for entry could at least read the ideas from the comfort of our lounge rooms. I was told that the TED organisers were not allowing tweeting from inside the room from audience members. This astonished me, considering that the whole philosophy of TED is “Ideas Worth Spreading”. Ideas worth spreading, but not as individual people. It seems from this policy that the way they practice their “Ideas Worth Spreading” idea is through their website. And to the cool people in the room.
Flash forward to 2013 and TED in Sydney has graduated to the Sydney Opera House – a much more expensive venue to hire. There was also, this time around, a ticket cost – $120 – for those who got in. I don’t know if they still had the Thought Club Doormen this time around. You would have thought so, however – TED seemed to be the hottest ticket in town for people interested in Thoughts. If you’re on the outside, you can watch the live stream at home or the videos afterwards. But not reading tweets.
The cult of TED has been interesting to follow – and I think summarised pretty well in this Twitter conversation between the President of the NSW Independent Education Union, Dick Shearman, radio and newspaper veteran Mike Carlton and I:
The adherents of TED do sound a bit like evangelical Christians after emerging from a particularly inspiring church service – high on the propagation of simple, effectively communicated ideas. You also don’t hear many dissenting voices TED being broadcast – restricting the tweets would certainly do that. It is also a bit Hillsong in that they do like to have the flashy, highly attractive venue and control over the material presented.
This is not to say TED is a bad thing, or that all of the presenters and their ideas aren’t excellent – I was pleased, for example, that Lisa Murray, the City of Sydney Historian, was appreciated for her work during yesterday’s event. Her work, and that of other presenters, needs celebration and profile. I do wonder, however, whether people who saw her talk would have gone to the other talks that she would deliver around the City as a part of her role, or just went because it was TED – and therefore cool.
I would be interested, too, whether the organisers of TED would ever contemplate a TEDxPenrith, where ideas could be propagated by a range of people to an audience keen to engage with ideas. This is because there are people who live in the region interested in ideas about society, the planet, education, history and the rest. The cynic in me guesses that it will never happen – TED seem to want the big flashy settings for the videos to get the clicks from their audience. You would wonder too if they would attract some of the Thought Leaders of our Age to make the trip out west.