Aasof on the problem with TED!


This week on Facebook: In compiling this post it occurred to me that online information has made us all instant experts on any topic, non more so that those who go to TED talks or use TEDx from YouTube. TED’s slogan shouldn’t be ‘Ideas worth spreading’, it should be: ‘Ego worth paying for’, or as Sunday’s post suggest, instead of the mnemonic  ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’, TED should renamed to the mnemonic to MMI: Middlebrow Megachurch Infotainment. Ultimately, the TED phenomenon only makes sense when you realise that it’s all about the audience. TED Talks are designed to make people feel good about themselves; to flatter them and make them feel clever and knowledgeable; to give them the impression that they are part of an elite group making the world a better place.

It may be that it’s the internet that introduces the problems associated with TEDx talks. The internet being the clearnet or surface web when referring to content indexable by search engines. However, the internet also includes the dark web or darknet and too little learning may well be a dangerous thing when using TED.

Shallow thinkers are incapable, and sometimes too lazy, to look at all sides of an issue or to explore the issues deeply before making judgment or decision. Shallow thinkers usually strongly believe they are right. They also believe they have depth behind their opinion, because they believe their opinion is also based on the truth and indisputable facts. When you dig deeper, you understand better. Thinking, shallow and deep

Despite the forgoing, I like TEDx and use its videos quite a lot. Nevertheless TED is infotainment and it is suggested that the whole world is online, and so too its speeches.  Every speaker has at the least a sizzle reel on his or her website, and often a good deal more.  Everyone either has a TEDx talk or will have one soon. Well, perhaps not the whole world, but as happened to me recently some TED videos actually elicit a response suggesting that TED videos really do become Middlebrow Megachurch Infotainment¹.

The url* that links the article to (5) below asks the question, “Does TED epitomise a situation where if a scientist’s work (or an artist’s or philosopher’s or activist’s or whoever) is told that their work is not worthy of support, because the public doesn’t feel good listening to them?”

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
In fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts,
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind;

(Alexander Pope, ‘Essay on Criticism’)


1. What’s The Problem With TED? What’s wrong with shorter speeches is that you can’t persuade people to change in 15 minutes, because you can’t make them emotionally uncomfortable enough with the status quo to be ready to embrace something new. That decision is made at the unconscious level, and the unconscious mind works slowly.  It takes it 15-20 minutes to get uncomfortable, then another 15-20 minutes to embrace the new idea —  emotionally, not logically.

2. The trouble with TED talks: “There’s no such thing as a dumb user,” says Timothy Prestero, a designer who has clearly never read the user comments on Comment is Free. Or indeed the articles. There are no questions here: in the cult of TED, everything is awesome and inspirational, and ideas aren’t supposed to be challenged.

3. To TED or Not to TED? We are often confronted with the shortcomings of the journal peer review process, but the TED Talks perhaps give us a glimpse of what journals would be like if we relied entirely on post-publication peer review. Sure, the egregiously wrong talks have been criticized, but the number of viewers aware of those criticisms is likely much smaller than the number who have viewed the talks and taken them as factual. It seems much harder to correct the record after the fact and the unclear level of reliability reduces trust, something we surely want to avoid.

4. When TED Lost Control of Its Crowd: People who didn’t even know the specifics of those situations but had grown to dislike what TED represented used the occasion to trash the brand—both for its perceived elitism and, somewhat paradoxically, for dumbing down ideas. An angry mob was forming. The dialogue was mean. And, organisationally, it was life threatening because the very premise of TED was being questioned.

5. We need to talk about TED: Think about it: an actual scientist who produces actual knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights! This is beyond popularisation. This is taking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not the solution to our most frightening problems — rather this is one of our most frightening problems.


Referenced Articles Books & Definitions:

  • A bold text subscript above and preceding a title below (¹·²·³), refers to a book, pdf, podcast, video, slide show and a download url that is usually free.
  • Brackets containing a number e.g. (1) reference a particular included article (1-5).
  • A link (url), which usually includes the title, are to an included source.
  • The intended context of words, idioms, phrases, have their links in italics.
  • A long read url* is followed by a superscript asterisk.
  • Occasionally Open University (OU) free courses are cited.
  • JSTOR lets you set up a free account allowing you to have 6 (interchangeable) books stored that you can read online.

¹A Strange Way of Speaking About the Brain (url): Current trends in neuroscience produce some quite weird ways of thinking and weird ways of talking. A peculiar habit of disassociation is widespread among many who study the brain. It reflects a ground-level fallacy, the mereological fallacy which mistakes the part for the whole.

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This site was created for members and friends of My Telegraph blog site, but anyone is welcome to comment, and thereafter apply to become an author.

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