Wednesday, 2 February 2011

TED GLOBAL: Powerpoints of the Gods

I could not run a thought-leadership organization.  I'd get my founding principles muddled, my symposia would break out into workshops before I was ready.  But much as I admire TED in some ways,  I cannot like TED.  (Technology.  Entertainment.  Design. ) 

I returned to the tainted pool this morning to watch a few of the speakers on YouTube.  Once again, (see previous blog) it was all twitter and internet and awe.  But the quick shots of the audience were what I noticed this time.  A smell of hegemonic white flesh seemed to pervade the academic auditoriums of Oxford, England and wherever the fuck else these things are held.

Sure, there are some clever people (sorry, amazing guys) in attendance and delivering the presentations.  There is certainly some impressive work on display.  Correction, there are some minor incremental advances on display that are extrapolated into an an amazing future for our grandkids (never grandchildren).

But that seems to be the TED working definition of 'an idea'.  The optimistic exaggeration of existing phenomena.  For example, the speaker who showed a way of making the internet more portable by projecting it onto things from a dongle hanging round your neck (is that even practical?) didn't present it as it was.  i.e. a projection device.  It was described as a sixth sense.  Now call me Victorian.  Call me a dinosaur, but I  had sight down as one of my main five.

The point is that I love ideas. Hydroponics.  Texting. Distance Chromatography.  But I can't help feeling that some kind of God-complex is getting in the way and arsing about with the ideas on show.  I feel I'm watching an audition for something, as if the world needs someone to take credit for how great the internet is.  (Almost every subject boils down to the simple increase in connectivity occasioned by the internet, yawn.)   It is this attempt to make a religion, or at least an orthodoxy out of beautiful, natural human endeavor that resides so purulently on my tits throughout any given speaker's presentation. 

The orthodoxy of this coolocracy is expressed through its language.

First,  the pronunciation of 'Technology' itself.  Whatever country you are from this sacred word is to be spoken as Bill Gates himself intones it,  half thrown away,  with a long second syllable, tailing off with a downward inflexion.  Practice it.  Tech- naur - logy.  Keep that central 'o' right at the back of the mouth, like you were drinking this stuff with your mother's milk.  Tech - nauhhh- logy.  Bit more arrogance?  Tech - nauhhhhh- logy.  That's it. We're growing.

Secondly, there is an important list of secondary words that connote your membership of this elite.  Obviously, nothing should be expressed as experimental, highly original or prototypical because your  terminology needs to be informal and non-precise.  It's cool, it's stuff, it's a whole new way, it's a shift, it's amazing.  We use sloppy-joe words and phrases,  relaxisms like 'enough already', 'uber', 'genius', 'OK'.   We say, 'right?' at the end of a sentence.  We say 'So' at the beginning of a sentence.  We punctuate with 'actually'.    We create, we innovate, we are global, taking a path, in a hotbed, laddering up. 

Thirdly,  to show your willingness to give yourself to this religion you must open your presentation by divesting yourself of your old, national or racial identity.  If you are English you make a faux-awkward reference to your lack of interpersonal skills, if American you take a sideways crack at US foreign-policy,  Eastern European speakers must allay fears that they are backed by state sponsored criminality.  Being able to distance yourself from your national stereotype indicates that you are ready to board the TED spaceship and fly off to populate the universe with intelligent cool people.

Fourthly, the future is great.   If you for one minute imply that the future is very likely a shitstorm in which everyone is fucked over by big pharma and international capital movements, that democracy is so last century and that the internet is 90% porn, you'll find yourself on the receiving end of a geeky moccasin and not invited back. 

Fifthly, while you and your audience are very clearly a well paid elite, you must make it look like the opposite.    This morning I watched a social media revolution guy gush about the large numbers of African Americans using twitter.  And that Brazilians twitter in greater numbers than anyone else, and it's not even in English.

Non-whites using twitter?  Fuck a bus!  And there was me thinking Brazilians lacked opposable thumbs.   The saddest moment for me was the speaker who showed how the internet had taught a shanty town in Nairobi how to recycle rubbish.   OK.  That's great.  Recycling rubbish?  I'm sure they'd never have thought of that.    But then, the Coup de Teatre.

Up came the live video link to the poor kid in Nairobi running the project who spoke directly to the audience boasting that his community was now 'A hotbed of Innovation'.   TED had made him use the special words.  Innovation?  Hotbed?  He'd learned the language of TED!  The white-bellied elite in the hall rose to their feet as one man, like a missionary seeing God's work done in Africa without the bother of putting together an expedition.

Amazing, right?

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