There was consternation among Brighton’s digerati after the latest TEDx event pulled into town leaving more than 250 applicants without a (free) ticket to the event.
The TEDx organisers were seemingly not to blame. Ticket distribution was democratic and even if the capacity of the venue was undersized, the successful 250 applicants were broadly representative of the city and its mix of scuzzy, student, innovative and digital.
So, understandably, the atmosphere at last Friday’s all-day event at the University of Brighton was raucous and electric, rather like a BBC Question Time audience on amphetamines or a huge metaphorical game of beach volleyball with delegates whooping and patting each others’ bottoms for encouragement.
Fortunately, this initial feeling of elitism died down as the day went on and didn’t extend to most of the dozen speakers. These 12 just men and women, apart from the egotism and self-importance of an ocean-rower who should have stuck to motivational speaking elsewhere, were, gulp, inspiring and uplifting.
TED began in 1984 as two non-profit conferences in the US and the UK to bring together people from the three verticals of (T)echnology, (E)ntertainment and (D)esign. The TED brand now includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and Open TV Project, the TED Fellows and the annual TED Prize.
Another one of its offshoots, the TEDx event, is a ‘program (sic) of local, self-organised events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience’… and seems to have taken over the world.
By the end of this month events in countries as diverse as Jordan, Slovenia, Kenya, Bangladesh and Dubai will have taken place. Already 22 such events planned in the UK in 2011 and by the time you’ve read this, there will be probably be a couple more.
Those attending the main TED conference in the US or TEDGlobal in Edinburgh pay a whooping $5,200 (£3,250) for a standard ticket and ‘donors’ pay twice that figure. It’s not surprising, therefore, that TEDx events are so popular.
That’s because they are free and, like its parent, strictly non-profit. A phalanx of local companies offers their services for nothing, partly out of philanthropy and community-building, but all hoping to benefit from association with the brand.
But is the event worthy of all the fuss and should the hype be believed? The theme of the Brighton event was Reasons to be cheerful – an optimistic look forward and themes covered business, happiness, the vision of utopia and even a life-drawing class that featured a naked woman who the audience were asked to draw.
While the latter talk/gawp attracted most of the attention, it was other disciplines that were more impressive.
Dr David Bramwell spoke of travelling the world in search of the perfect life and Antony Mayfield presented ways of embracing, not being suffocated, by the web. Both highly impressive.
Will McInnes enthused about his agency NixonMcInnes that uses a bucket of tennis-balls to monitor how his employees gauge happiness at work. If they’re happy they put a ball in the appropriate bucket, if not they put it in the unhappy one.
While many would prefer to kick over the bucket and pelt tennis-balls at the employee who had angered them, McInnes’s enthusiasm was infectious, well-meaning and almost political in its delivery, but my favourite was the presenter who preceded him.
Sarah Angliss’ subject was Loving The Machine, and when this writer read that it would be an optimistic view of mechanisation, the scales fell from his eyes, but it was magnificent.
Using archive pictures and even producing a Heath Robinson-like device that kept perfect time with her heartbeat, she managed to connect clog-dancing, Lancashire’s dark satanic mills, early electro, Kraftwerk and even today’s call-centres to show how dance music was a result of the relentless beat of factory machines. She should be given her own TV series immediately.
At the end of the event the delegates noisily repaired to the local pub to carry on the discussion. Among them, and to his considerable surprise, there was one cynical hack who was not only glad to have made it on the delegate list, but was almost smug about it. Maybe it’s time to apply for next year’s event.