Yesterday I spent the day at the RTP headquarters, attending TEDxRTP. The TEDx conferences are small, locally organized offshoots of the well-known TED conference.
This was the first TEDx in the Triangle region (though Asheville beat us as being the first in the state) and, judging from the response of the audience, it seems everyone expects this will become a regular annual event. You can check out the Twitter account as well as the Twitter chatter if you search the #TEDxRTP hashtag.
The event was livestreamed and the rough videos are already up on the Ustream channel. Better quality videos will be posted soon (Ustream and/or YouTube, just check out the TEDxRTP webpage or Twitter account for updates when this happens).
TEDxNYED (on Twitter) was happening in NYC at the same time, focusing on “the role of new media and technology in shaping the future of education” and a stellar line-up of speakers. The idea to organize TED events specifically for young people (both as presenters and key audience) sprung up spontaneously at both the RTP and NYC events – follow the #SpreadTED hashtag for more – though it has been done before at a local scale: see TEDxTerry (see this video for one example of their talks – I met Jennifer Kaban subsequently at AAAS).
As you may know, I was involved in the organization of the event to some extent, mostly early on. I do not remember now how I got a wiff that a group of locals was trying to organize this (Twitter, Facebook?), but I joined the group early on and we met several times for monthly organizational meetings. Realizing that location dictates everything else (number of participants, number of attendees, amount of food/coffee needed, sponsorship money needed to cover food/coffee, etc.) we set out to investigate location options in the Triangle and took a look at something like 40 potential locations. Some were too small, some too big, some too expensive, others fully booked for the year, and yet others just did not spatially fit for our event. We looked at theaters and movie theaters, hotels and convention centers, restaurants and cafes. In the end, I helped negotiate the perfect location – the RTP headquarters: perfect location smack in the center of the Triangle, easy drive from everywhere in the area, great LEED-silver building, and experienced staff that could help with myriads of aspects of organizing an event, from catering and parking to technical aspects (wifi, video recording etc.).
Later on, busy with ScienceOnline2010 and then trip to AAAS, I pulled out of the organization a little bit. I especially did not want to dictate the speakers, for two reasons: one generous, one selfish. First, I am already organizing the awesomest, most kick-ass, most well-known annual conference in the area where I have a big say as to who is speaking. Second, I wanted to see local speakers that I am not aware of, yet others think are worth listening to. Just like at Ignite Raleigh a few days earlier, all the speakers were new to me (at least in the sense that I have never seen them speak – I did know a few people from before, either from Real Life or from the online world). And I approached the TEDxRTP speaker line-up with a deliberate decision to be open and tolerant to everything, even if that is a little bit outside my own comfort zone.
And yes, several were outside of my comfort zone. As the theme of the event was “Living to Our Highest Potential”, the talks were highly inspirational. Yes, several invoked spirituality, alternative medicine, uncritical infatuation with the “wisdom” of Ancient India, and even, gasp, religion, but none of them crossed the line for me, the rational, reality-based robot. The only talk that made me really uneasy is one that invoked a far too traditional and conservative vision of what a family looks like (and judging from the Twitter chatter, I was far from alone in being uneasy with it. Update: Carlee Mallard also agrees with me on this in her blog post).
I am an analytical kind of guy, so I analyzed the talks a lot! There was a lot of stuff there that I learned from the first time, from design of serious games, through the ways private companies are planning on going into outer space, to how to teach swimming, to business practices of trapist monks. Then there were talks which covered well-trodden ground but framed it differently, in a new and potentially useful way. And Catherine Cadden broke my analytical shields and moved me emotionally.
Nick Young did the best job blogging about TEDxRTP so far – see his preview, the first part of the review and second part of the review for good descriptions of the event and the individual presentations (though we may not agree on details).
What I was initially worried about turned out to be actually a good thing about TEDxRTP – the layering and mixing up of some very different presentations. It was not just talk after talk after talk. We showed four original TED videos (this is one of the rules of TEDx). We had one speaker read a poem. A trio playing serious music. And two (one planned one unplanned) skits of improvisation theater. The whole thing was connected together masterfully by MC for the day Zach Ward whose dry humor made the event even more fun. I hope he comes back to do it again next year.
This is a time of heavy concentration of similar events in the area. There was an Ignite Raleigh 2 on March 3rd (I already blogged about it), and upcoming are FizzledDurham on March 8th (that’s tomorrow), Pecha Kucha Raleigh on March 23rd, and the March edition of The Monti also on March 23rd.
The real biggy this year is WWW2010 in late April which includes several side-show events including Web Science Conference 2010, 7th International Cross-Disciplinary Conference on Web Accessibility and the FutureWeb: WWWhere Are We Heading?, the latter one I hope to be able to attend.
You can find these and other events on the Social Carolina calendar and plan accordingly – and hope you can get tickets, as most of these events sell out within minutes! Now that all these small independent groups are finding each other, we can probably be able to coordinate the dates and times better for the next year’s events, including TEDxRTP2011.
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