TED: Surprise Over Substance

There are countless TED talks shown in classes that I have taken, and for this reason, when I came across this article on alternet.org I was very intrigued. I have always found these talks interesting as they challenge the way we think about things, but this article sheds some light on the reality of these talks. “TED truly values flash and surprise over substance”. Could it be that I was so distracted by the flashy words and performance that I am giving the speakers in TED talks too much credit?

The format of a TED talk can be broken down into these components:

  • Drastically oversimplified explanations of complex problems.
  • Technologically utopian solutions to said complex problems.
  • Unconventional (and unconvincing) explanations of the origins of said complex problems.
  • Staggeringly obvious observations presented as mind-blowing new insights.

Thinking back to the TED talk that I watched on African and leading innovation, I began to realize why I was so persuaded. The speaker was so bold in his words and his supposed passion made the viewer want to agree with what he was saying. TED talks are seemingly inspirational but when reviewing that TED talk I realized how empty these talks truly are.

On top of the deceiving nature of these talks, it turns out that these “groundbreaking” TED talks have become an “exclusive, expensive elite networking experience with a much more prominent public face”. People who attend these conferences must apply, and only those who make large donations are considered. The people at TED pride themselves as being special and delivering information that you cant find elsewhere in the media. But it turns out that is just a façade they are hiding behind. Is TED just another reason to be more careful about not believing everything you hear and read?


2 responses to “TED: Surprise Over Substance

  1. I am not sure I would sweep all TED talks under the heading of “all flash, no substance.”

    Did the author have any examples of these over-simplifications?

    I asked you about your last post if Africa really did pioneer pay-as-you-go mobile phones. Did the talk present support for this?

    And, to say that Africa is leading innovation is a provocative statement and is not “obvious” conclusions. The very premise upends entrenched ideas about Africa as backward.


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