TEDx in Sydney: My quick review

Yesterday I attended TEDx Sydney. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I’ve not been to TED events before, but the speaker line up looked fantastic and the attendee list looked pretty interesting.

The x in TEDx means the event was independently organised by local volunteers, and I originally heard about the event through two of the organisers who are friends of mine, Alex Young and Rob Manson. A huge congratulations to Alex, Rob and all the other organisers for coordinating such an amazing event. I didn’t have a point of comparison, but one person said on Twitter that it was the most professional TEDx they’d been to yet!

The day itself was fantastic. There were a few talks and performances that had me absolutely riveted, and I got to meet up with a lot of interesting people. There was a lot going on at any one point which was a bit hard to track, and we were discouraged from “blogging” in the actual room at the beginning of the day which annoyed me, but apparently that is a normal TED thing.

I tweeted about the content all day as did a few others, so check out #tedxsydney over the coming days & I’ll post my tweet list a bit later for posterity 🙂

I also wanted to expand upon a couple of thoughts from the day.

Firstly, most of the talks discussed very black and white approaches and concluded with black and white outcomes, and it occurred to me that the world is very grey, it is rarely linear in nature and yet we insist upon boxing and defining things into easy to understand linear rationalism that simply doesn’t map onto reality, at least not for long. It is certainly useful to conceptualise and try to define things for our own understanding, but it reinforced for me that we need to work hard to maintain an open mind, flexibility in our mental models and compassion for other people and other ways of doing things. We also need to remember just because it sounds good to us in our context, doesn’t make it “good” for everyone.

Secondly, In Nigel March’s talk about work/life balance, he posed the question “what does your perfect work day look like?” and it was a fascinating thought experiment that I will continue to play with. As he said, most people don’t really think about this, and therefore you don’t know how to find the balance that is right for you. Later, when I heard a talk about “micro-insurance”, I got thinking about the application of Nigel’s approach to the
world as a whole.

What do we imagine to be the perfect balance for the entire world? Does it mean everyone working jobs they like? Everyone getting access to good health and education? Everyone driving cars, eating what they want, speaking their views openly and without fear? What are the basic things we want to see in the world and – and this is the hard bit – how realistic or sustainable is that vision? I guess what I started pondering was what is the actual goal people have in mind when they talk about working towards a “better world”?

It’s great that from the relative luxury of a developed, affluent and educated society, we are looking at ways to share, connect, collaborate and generally reduce our carbon footprint, but what of others who have never tasted the fruits of materialism, others without anything who have been (unfortunately) conditioned through Western culture to think that having the nice car, or house, or billion other things is a sign of success. Nigel spoke about the need to redefine what we consider “success” to be, and suggested owning loads of things wasn’t really it. I suggest we are going to face some difficulty in convincing the vast majority of the world’s population who are starting to want more things that stuff doesn’t make you happy 🙂

Every presentation from the day had interesting ideas to share, but here were the ones that really grabbed me, that kept me absolutely focused for their entire presentation. Check out the schedule for all presentations, which will be available online to watch in a week or two:

  • Bobby Singh – gave a stunning Indian drumming performance, describing and thhe demonstrating the language of drumming. Like any good story, he used his drumming to convey great meaning and I felt as if I could listen for hours.
  • Michael Kirby – gave a concise, thought-provoking and at times justifiably harsh talk about secularism and gay marriage. It was fantastic to listen to him, as he is both a brilliant and funny speaker, with something important to say.
  • Nigel Marsh – gave a thought provoking talk about trying to achieve work-life balance, and it was well worth listening to.
  • All the musical performances were brilliant, especially William Barton, one of Australia’s leading didjeridu players who combined it with the electric guitar and some beatboxing! It was also awesome to see FourPlay do their thing (twice).
  • Rachel Botsman – gave a well articulated talk about how massive connectivism is changing things. She managed to capture some really great ideas, but I have to say I was initially a little put off by the term “collaborative consumerism”, though it was awesome to see a subtle shoutout to Open Source and Free Software when she included Tux in her slides as an example of a successful connected community 🙂
  • Seb Chan – gave a great talk about the Powerhouse Museum and what they are up to, and it’s always great to listen to his raw passion and enthusiasm for his work.
  • Finally, Amanda Barnard who spoke about nanotechnology and what they are doing with nano-diamonds.

PS – I was going to take photos all day from my HTC Desire as a roadtest, but forgot my phone charger :/

6 thoughts on “TEDx in Sydney: My quick review”

  1. Rob Manson, Michael Kirby, Seb Chan and music all in one day? Why the heck wasn’t I there!?



  2. Michael Cathcart for me was a real stand out. Wonderful subtle narrative story telling and idea exploration. Made the familiar story of white Australian settlement new and fresh.

    Amazing job by Remo, and a cast of many to bring together an incredible day

  3. I think Jonathan Marshall’s talk on climate change as a symbolic event is also worth a mention. His exploration of the psychology (cultural and emotional) involved in this debate certainly highlighted the grey – criticising the polarising and unproductive black & white perspective that dominates the social vernacular and imagery surrounding this important debate.

    I also don’t know if a western perspective bias in the messages at Tedx Sydney, which let’s face it was for a very western/middle class audience, is necessarily worth criticism if the ideas were to inspire or provoke thought I that very audience and their lives. Though as you rightly point out we should be aware of this and be cautious about prescriptive ideas for everyone.

  4. Where the organisers could improve things next time is in how they managed and messages who got into the coveted Bay 17 and then how the Class B people (ie those who didn’t get into Bay 17) were subsequently told they could attend. It was v unimpressive. Let’s face it, there are a lot of TEDx going on around the world and I can catch the highlights on the TEDx YouTube channel. Trying to have an exclusive event with formal language is out of step with the times and the reality of the situation.

  5. I was there and enjoyed the day, I thought there could have been some more talks on ideas,, some were a little weak for me.
    But agree Remo did an amazing job and what a location. I was engaged all day and thats rare.. so the format works well.

    see you next tedx

  6. I thought it was an excellent day too, and it started off great when Pia came to say Hi!

    I too would have liked to hear more ideas and fewer opinions, and perhaps a return to the Technology Education Design [=TED] fundamentals would be worth striving for.

    The organisation of the day was excellent and the venue first rate for atmosphere. And I learned too that there was such a thing as a free lunch for those of us in Bay17. The poor TEDexiles out at the Forum had to actually buy their own lunch.

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