I attended my first TED event yesterday. For those of you unfamiliar with TED, it stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design (note how I’ve Capitalized those please) and globally has elicited some of the greatest talks from some of the world’s greatest minds, on a range of subjects covering almost everything. I’m a big fan. Groupie, even. I expected an evening full of diverse speakers from all walks of life. Unfortunately, Denver, the Mile High City, didn’t decide to take that route for the Colorado based speakers they chose for TedXMileHigh. Instead, they decided to stick to a theme which I shall entitle “World Depression in General” otherwise known as “How Everyone Else Including You Sucks”. I thought I was going to attend something and be inspired, but instead I left depressed. And hungry. And a bit pissed off too.
Maybe it just didn’t start off well for me. I couldn’t decide whether the first presenter Sally Ranner, an environmentalist, was just terribly nervous, had a speech impediment, or was drunk. She has walked the halls of Washington fighting for the forests, but apparently sort of lost track when it came to her message at TED and was horribly dry mouthed to boot. You’d have thought that Alex Bogusky could have popped up with a bottle of water maybe? Oh sorry, he was too busy rehearsing his canned admiration and inept questions. He might be a genius creative mind but snappy Emcee he is not.
Following Ranner was Bernard Amadei, the founder of Engineers Without Borders, who with his catchy French accent and adamant finger pointing, lambasted us by preaching compassion, and criticized America for not manufacturing more cheap products for what he termed the “other 90%” of the world’s population. Apparently we should all be out there making cheap water purification tanks for India. No. India should not do it. We, the people of the United States should do it. And the couple things that India has made? Well, the USA should have made those. I don’t understand. I didn’t realize that it was a global competition to help people. I thought that as a global community, we were all supposed to help. Mr Amadei refers to tiny spots of inhabited land in the middle of nowhere as “dark” because they have no electricity and other resources. And in my eyes, those are the areas that haven’t been bastardized by Western culture and are existing as they have for centuries. Who are we to go and tell them that they need light? And he says that outer poverty can’t be cured before we conquer “inner poverty”. He said that over and over. And I still have no idea what the hell he means!
Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises and Author of “Out of Poverty”, agrees with Mr Amadei. Apparently Walmart SHOULD be selling crap to the rest of the world and it’s an injustice that they aren’t doing so. And Coca Cola? Well, they had better watch out, because their cheap drink could get taken over by an even cheaper healthy drink and then where will Coke be? Um, exactly where they are now, sir. Leading the Western World. And Microsoft? Taking care to exclude the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and making no mention of the fact that said Foundation would be nowhere if not for Microsoft, Mr Polak seems quite offended that Microsoft isn’t making goods for the more poverty stricken areas of the world. Really? You’re surprised by that? Yes, what the impoverished world needs is the added hell of Windows XP.
(BTW – Darian says I mixed up these two speakers – see, it was all a blur to me!)
Nathaniel Rateliff truly has an most unusual voice and I’m definitely a new fan. But even as he said, “They asked me to play something uplifting, and this song is called Laugh, and maybe if you don’t listen to the words, the rhythm will be uplifting?”. The dude event looks depressed and I think it’s a big part of his schtick, and in fact I think he’s the new Bob Dylan because you can’t understand a word he says. In a nice way, of course.
Robyn O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth, got me tearful talking about her kid with allergies, as mine is, but then lost me with her repetitive mantra of being an A-type personality and the different organizations she has turned to. She has turned and turned and turned, apparently. All delivered in what surmounted to a sad whisper. But she was wearing a lovely pair of heels, and has great tanned legs, so that must help with all that turning.
Yes, there were a couple of highlights:
Libby Burky from SAME Cafe was terrific, and her story was interesting. Inspiring? Not necrssarily. But she was engaging.
I loved Obura Tongoi from Africa Redefined. With his huge Nigerian smile and dashing Air Force uniform, the crowd almost lifted to their feet as he got to the stage. His message, that people should not be afraid of, in fact should relish and embrace failure, is one I strongly believe in. And I love the idea that how we word things can motive and change people, like instead of calling someone “poor” you say they are “at the frontlines of the fight against poverty”. Suddenly they have gone from being powerless, to being empowered. Love that idea. Then, Governor Hickenlooper gave a more positive message against attack ads, and made me want to vote for him. All round nice guy and I think he could be elected president if he stopped wearing suits! How’s that for a campaign idea?
And my boys,Theo and Bobby, the slam poets from Slam Nuba, did that thing they do that made me cast them over two years ago in a series of TV commercials for a bank that we re-created this year (www.kasasa.com).
I’m sure these are all brilliant people. And I know they have done very good things. That I don’t questions for one minute. But I though from TED’s perspective, it was a myopic view of inspiration and I question whether this is all that Colorado has to inspire? And while I’m at it, can I throw a little more criticism at the organizers? This is an event that you’re charging people for. Charging them a fair sum. And we elected for VIP tickets because there was good seating, a reception during one of the breaks and “heavy hors d’oeuvres” during the second. So, chaps, a couple donated granola bars, water from a cooler and some sickly sweet Oogave doth not a reception make. Unless I missed some booze and a couple waiters with trays hidden somewhere, standing in the now defunct Kevin Taylor Restaurant eyeing bad fruit bars with a bunch of my old ad agency colleagues, doesn’t really meet up to my idea of mingling with some of Denver’s greatest minds. No offense old ad guys. By the time break two came, and the line for a tired shrimp and something creamy in a tasting cup was about 20 wide and 200 deep, Darian and I booked it for the nearest restaurant.
Yes. I know.We left before the Cultural Jedi and some being called Xiren whose bio quotes “Xiren is also an avid Yogi and holds the rank of Shodan in a traditional style of Japanese Ninjutsu. During last year’s India and US tours he managed to keep a rigorous workout schedule while on the tour bus.” This Indian tour, it seems, was completely disastrous, which I guess, brought us back round to the theme of the evening, right?
Perhaps I’m a terrible, horrible cynic. Some might say cold-hearted bitch, maybe. But I just don’t think that this was the case. At least not in this situation. I think inspiration comes from all sorts of extraordinary things, and that’s what I expected to discover. Now please don’t mistake my disinterest for lack of apathy or all round unconcern. Unlike the person who quite wrongly accused me of “living in a bubble” said, I’m pretty aware of what’s going on in the world. And hey, I come from Africa. I’ve seen poverty first hand, which is more than I can say for some of my associates. It’s just that my philanthropic interest lies elsewhere, with children who are abused and who are dying of things like cancer. I think that’s important. Really, really important. And it’s my focus. Where my heart lies. And I appreciate that someone else is watching out for global warming and people in India with diarrhea. Really I do. But don’t lecture me about what I should be doing. And don’t demean me because my interest isn’t the same as yours. After all, I don’t criticize you for feeing the homeless when helpless kids are dying of a disease that could be cured but for lack of funding. So no. I am not going to manufacture cheap water pumps for the poverty stricken. And no. I am not going to put my money towards saving forests in Brazil. And no, there’s not much chance I’m going to sit through another 7 hours of TEDxMileHigh. At least not until something has been done about world poverty.