While my Facebook feed races to the lowest common denominator, I’m happily reminded that TED talks continue to resist this downward viral video trend. They are the perfect antidote because they are properly viral.
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Online video used to be a way to disrupt our assumptions about the world. Now, so called “viral” videos simply fill our feeds with ever more desperate attempts to make us click and “watch the first 10 seconds to be amazed”.
The videos I find in my Facebook news feed (I really can’t imagine reading it much longer) may spread like wildfire but this replication is in vain. The majority have no real DNA beneath their one “laugh out loud” protein coat. Any virus of this nature would soon find itself extinct.
TED videos are the perfect antidote to this epidemic, not just because they offer a YouTube sanctuary for grown-ups, but because their “ideas worth spreading” come with speakers attached. Unlike the viral marketing click bait, these videos understand that for ideas to spread they need to be situated in a host.
In fact perhaps TED talks are viral videos in the true sense. They not only offer an appealing outer layer but substance within. Some affect me because the people speaking get under my skin so I can’t escape what they are saying. Others have hooked me in with a headline but then go on to connect me to an individual speaker in a compelling way.
Unlike traditional viral videos, TED talks are more like real world viruses. As Wikipedia puts it, viruses offer an “important natural means of transferring genes between different species, which increases genetic diversity and drives evolution.” Ideas are not only shared but they become embedded in the people watching them. Rather than a marketing “call to action” viewers are instead asked to become new hosts of the message.
I know some question the wisdom of giving time, money and ideas for free. From personal experience, the invitation to talk at TEDx is a strange one. Prestige, kudos and connections await those whose “idea worth spreading” breaks out into the larger TED orbit. Equally though it’s a lot of work to talk to a few hundred people for 10 minutes or so without being paid.
But I’d do it again in a flash.
For me, being pushed to connect my professional ideas with my wider passions and person-hood was a watershed moment I still go back to even three years later.
In fact I did go back, not as a speaker but as Production Manager for TEDxExeter. In fact this post was sparked today as the TEDxExeter talks were published, and I was again struck by how much I appreciated this combination of ideas with people attached. The talks themselves probably do a better job of explaining this than I can.
There was Harry Baker, slam poetry champion who beguiled and entertained before asking searching questions of our humanity:
There was Joel Gibbard who’s open source robot prosthesis playfully promised to revolutionize the industry — ending with the mind-blowing idea of an Iron Man option for children in need of a robotic hand.
There was Fin Williams on the two things we need to change the world for our children. She shared her story of childhood rebellion and how we need to learn to tell ourselves better stories.
Finally there was Matt Hayler who’s ingeniously counter-intuitive talk suggested that technology could not be significant until it became boring. It’s only then, when everyone has it, that you can realize what it can really do.
Each of these, and the other talks at the event, connected with me because of who was speaking as much as what they were saying. They were about character as well as ideas. They each shared something I caught, and couldn’t help myself sharing. They were the right kind of virus, with real world implications.