This is exactly why academics talks should never look like TED talks

Past week I delivered a lecture on “public presentation”. We were discussing what makes a good presentation: communication skills, body language, power point design etc. In a given moment I raised the question “which are the difference between academics talks and TED talks”. I did it on purpose because, as I reflected once in this blog, TED talks are gaining a lot of acknowledgment among students and I am not sure whether this is good. The question led to a lasting and interesting debate. My point was that academics talks have more to do with knowledge. Nex time, I will reference this talks, they really express the idea I tried to transmit in class. I first paste the most highlightable part of the talk. I like the concept of “politic placebo” and “placebo techno radicalism”. TED talks make us feel that things can work out after all, without facing the complexity of the systems we are embedded in, while impeding a real transformation.

Ted is perhaps a proposition, one that says if we talk about world-changing ideas enough, then the world will change, well this is not true either, and that’s the second problem…TED of course stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. To me, TED stands for: middlebrow megachurch infotainment. The key rhetorical device at any TED talk is a combination of epiphany and personal testimony. The speaker shares some personal story of insights and revelation, its trials and tribulations. What does the TEK audience hope to get from this? What does the TED audience hope to get from this? A vicarious insight? A fleeting moment of wonder? A sense that maybe it´s all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz? Well, I´m sorry, but this is not up to the challenge of the problems that we are ostensibly here to face. They are complex and difficult and not given to tidy just-so solutions. They don´t care about anyone´s experience of optimism… if we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff’-the history, economics, philosophy, art, the ambiguities, and contradictions. Because focusing just on technology, or just on innovation (he calls it placebo technoradicalism) actually prevents transformation. We need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. And this is not about “personal stories of inspiration” It´s about the hard difficult work of demystification and reconceptualization. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins. At a societal level, the bottom line is that if we invest in things that make us feel good but which don´t work, and don´t invest in things which don´t make us feel good, but which may solve problems, then our fate is that in the long run it will just get harder and harder to feel good about not solving problems. And in this case, the placebo is not just ineffective- it´s harmful. Because it takes your interest, and energy and outrage, and diverts into this black hole of affectation. “Keep calm and carry on innovating” –is that the real message of TED? To me it´s not inspirational, it´s cynical.

This both are worth watching, more informal, but greatly reflecting how many talks nowadays, in reality, say nothing but just make us feel they do it by body language and visual aids.






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