Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Adora Svitak Goes to Long Beach: TED2010

By Adora Svitak

Where can you eat free food to your heart’s delight, snap a picture with Al Gore and say hello to Bill Gates, and watch some of the world’s most influential people speak, all in the same week? If you went to the TED conference this February, then you know that the Long Beach Performing Arts Center is (or was) the answer. I was lucky enough to be able to go to TED as a speaker—and yes, I managed to do all those things. I even took some free yogurt pretzels and dark chocolate malt balls home for my sister. 

As the theme for this year’s conference was “What the World Needs Now,” I thought it would be appropriate to talk about “What Kids Need Now.” However, since I was talking mainly to an adult audience, I mentioned that the adult world could benefit by learning from kids. The main idea was that kids have the audacity to come up with ideas that can better the world, and that adults should listen. In other words, “You must lend an ear today, because we are the leaders of tomorrow” (a passage I was frequently Twitter-quoted on). Of all the conferences I have attended, I can say without doubt that TED was the most Twitter-active. A single glance at TweetDeck told me that people had basically transcribed my speech on the web (in bits and pieces, of course). There was one quote here, and one quote there--it added up.
One of my favorite lines (one I was, disappointingly, not much quoted on) was, “If you don’t think this applies to you, remember that cloning is possible—and that involves going through childhood again, in which case you will want to be heard—just like my generation." Maybe the fact that this sentence was 156 characters provided a difficulty when it came to posting on Twitter! However, I felt that this line spoke both to the mood of going forward into the future--a mood that is so prevalent at TED--but also serves to appeal to the selfish nature in everybody (you should listen to kids because you would want to be listened to!)

The technology I used was fairly simple, although I did experiment. I used a site called Prezi, a zooming presentation tool which utilizes one large canvas instead of separate slides, then zooms in and out to create a pleasing visual presentation. It's kind of a cross between a video pan and PowerPoint. Prezi was an appropriate choice--as I found out later, TED actually invested in Prezi. Other than the Prezi, a laptop computer, and a remote-controlled slide advancer (which malfunctioned at the beginning of my speech), I didn't use that much technology compared to some of my education presentations. 

But that's enough about me--what about the larger TED experience? As a first-time TED attendee, everything was new and exciting. One of my favorite aspects was the aforementioned free food. My mom joked that I had a graduate-student mentality as I greedily browsed the shelves of artisan brownies (yes, artisan brownies), smoothies, juices, yogurts, wasabi-ginger chocolate...the list went on and on and on. Of course, that was only food for the stomach, and TED gives you food for thought as well. As a matter of fact, food in general seemed to be a big theme. We heard from renowned chef Dan Barber, who crafted an engaging metaphorical narrative about his "love affairs" with two different fish (the speech focused on the difference between "sustainable" livestock practices and ways of raising animals that were truly beneficial to the world around them). Even the prestigious TED prize went to a chef--Jamie Oliver, for his campaign to get healthier lunches in America's school cafeterias and raise nutritional awareness in kids. 

We snacked on stunning live performances by artists like dance group the LXD (Legion of Extraordinary Dancers), who later performed at the Oscars; singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant, who transformed children's poems into powerful songs; string quartet Ethel, who are regulars at TED events; and ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro, who made the miniature instrument larger than life. I highly encourage you to watch all the TEDTalks videos as they come out on the TED website. Some have already come out, like the speeches of Indian artist Raghava KK and autism activist Temple Grandin. Both encouraged the audience to think bigger, dream higher, and understand the unique worlds of both speakers. 

Now what do all of these delectable meals of speech have to do with education? TED turns every one of its attendees, CEOs and government officials, business leaders and musicians, into students. In a word, TED is a classroom (albeit a large one). Its instructors come from all walks of life and teach crash courses on science, math, language arts, technology, entertainment, design, culture, history, politics, law, and food. Most importantly, the speakers at, and the organizers of, TED, expect a lot from their students. They expect us to go out into the world and make a difference--something which schools everywhere should expect of their students.

I've heard of books that tell readers about places to go to before they die. TED should definitely be on the list. With a collection of speakers that included notables from fields ranging from art to the environment, science to politics, TED was a veritable buffet of thought from all corners of the globe. Like any good buffet, TED left us feeling exhausted, full, and satisfied--our stomachs full of artisan brownies, and our inspired heads bursting with new ideas. 


From TED:
Chris Anderson
June Cohen
Katherine McCartney
Bruno Giussani

Fellow Attendees:
Steve Wozniak
James Cameron
Bill Gates
Chris Colfer
Kevin McHale
John Awgunobi
Will Smith
Al Gore
Matt Groening
Jeff Bezos

Fellow Speakers:
Jake Shimabukuro
Carter Emmart
Esther Duflo
Cheryl Hayashi
Frank Drake
John Kasaona
Benoit Mandelbrot 



  1. I like your quote (the one mentioning cloning and going through childhood again). I don't think most adults -- and people in general, for that matter -- realize the importance of children in society. There are lots of age limits plastered on jobs and other opportunities, such as voting, which is sometimes discouraging because, growing up, you feel like you aren't being given any chances to prove your talents at all.

    The TED conference sounds incredible. And from what you've mentioned, it sounds like you had a great time. Huge congrats! :)

  2. My brother-in-law sent me a video of you at TED and let me jusr say you are now my biggest inspiration in life! Everything you said, and all coming for someone I can relate to so much! I've been working on writing a book and I'd never thought that publishers would be like that, why I didn't I don't know. I really liked what you said about that teaching being reciprocal. In my history class we have that thing going on in a way, which I like, but I wish it could translate throughout the school. It would make school a lot more tedious. I love the humor you incorporated into it all and it was all around enjoyable to listen to you speak! Thank you so much.