A Disappointing Opening Night — The TED2016 Experience

By Michael Sobota

The TED2016 event is a weeklong series of typical TED talks and performances. This program screened at Thunder Bay’s SilverCity on February 15 was the opening night of TED2016, telecast live from Vancouver where the overarching theme was “Dreaming.”

I know TED and TED Talks only from what I have seen online. There have been various manifestations of TED here in Thunder Bay. This live telecast from Vancouver was a mixed bag. At its weakest, the TED experience is what we used to simply call “motivational speaking”—warm, fuzzy content hyped-up to thrill us with some technological, medical, or scientific breakthrough. The speakers are all deeply enthused about their subject. Unfortunately, most of the speakers on this program didn’t engage me.

Here are three that did. All of them are relatively well known Americans, flown to Vancouver to wow the local participants.

  1. Dan Pallotta, a non-profit fundraising genius and social activist, was the first presenter to attach personal emotion and social justice ideas to what had been mostly technical or intellectual content. His talk may be summed up in this quote: “I can’t be bothered with you right now—I have this idea for saving the world.” which is his comment on most of science or technology today.
  2. Shonda Rhimes is a mega-media titian (her own description). She is an executive producer and writer for the hit television series Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder. She talked about the challenges of producing more than 70 hours of primetime television per season, juggling multitasking roles, and raising three daughters. Only she discovered her daughters were being raised by nannies. Pretty much. She revealed that a breakthrough moment for her occurred when one of her daughters asked her to play. She told us she “didn’t like play; I liked work.” But she said yes. And this one word shifted her entire world.
  3. Bill T. Jones is a black American modern dancer. He and his partner, Arnie Zane, had one of the most acclaimed dance companies in New York city. Zane died from AIDS and Bill went on to continue dancing, and reforming his own company. At this TED event, he gave us a piece called “Process As Performance”—building from a structure of 21 gestures and incorporating commentary from all of the previous TED presenters on the particular program. Wearing a head microphone, he spoke throughout his dancing, using personal history, stories of friends, biting racial commentary , and joyful, heart-opening gestures. During the commentary Jones revealed that he “is 64. And today is my birthday.”

    If you love TED Talks, check out Thunder Bay TEDx (a mini-TED experience) on June 10.