right said ted

So, how about that TEDxVancouver?

As promised, I did go in with an open mind – I was there to learn, so I paid attention to my surroundings and made many (mostly illegible) notes, and here is what I have to say: a lot of TEDxVancouver was great. There’s no denying that a lot of hard work went into the event and some great ideas were shared, as promised – but there was also a lot of the event that just did not resonate with me at all. Here are some bullet points:

The Good

  • Registration was a breeze
  • Dr. Jack Horner‘s talk on dinosaurs
  • The idea behind Yael Cohen‘s “Fuck Cancer” movement
  • Watching Mike Rowe‘s talk from TED2009
  • What I saw of Devdutt Pattanaik‘s talk from TEDIndia 2009 that included a simple, two word phrase that could quite seriously inspire me to do great things: “BE SPECTACULAR”
  • Don Alder‘s incredible guitar playing
  • Nazanin Afshin-Jam‘s talk about the atrocities that go on in her homeland of Iran and how we can help
  • Josh, who brought me some desperately needed Diet Coke at 2:30 – he is the best
  • Greg Power‘s talk on Storytelling
  • Seeing some great people I know and admire and meeting a few new people
  • Being a human iPad stand as I forced Rage HD on all who stood nearby

These were all good things. Then there were the things that made me go O_o:

The O_o

  • The idea that Gen Y is a Hero Generation simply because “it happens every four generations, and we’re 4th from the last Hero Generation”. The talk was meant to be inspiring, but was really came off as arrogant and self-serving (not to mention utterly dismissive of the Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers in the audience, as we were all made to applaud for “our” generation to determine the audience dynamic). Comments made after the talk included “They [the speakers] really did a disservice to Gen Y, not help it” and “We should call them the ‘ID Generation’, for “I Deserve””. Your actions will determine your hero status, not your birthdate – you EARN the title “hero”; not inherit it. More power to those who try to make a difference in the world around them, but to claim to be a hero simply because you were born after 1977 is pretty ridiculous and arrogant.
  • The close-up of Neda Agha-Soltan‘s face after being shot in Tehran seemed needless, cruel and gratuitous to me. Several people in the audience were covering their eyes so they didn’t have to see the graphic image of Neda’s face in death; blood streaming from her mouth and nose and her one open eye staring lifelessly ahead. I know a point was being made, but we see too much violence as it is – images of these people as they should be remembered, alive and just like us, go a lot further when you realize that these people are DEAD and GONE because they lived in a part of the world struggling for the freedoms we take for granted. Maybe some people need to see the blood and death before they understand, but the opposite can be even more powerful.
  • While I admire the “Fuck Cancer” movement and the work Yael Cohen has done with it, I do not agree that apathy is the disease we’re fighting. Even armed with the knowledge that 90% of cancers are curable in the first stage, what I DO with that knowledge is the real problem: yes, we are fortunate to live in Canada and have access to free health care, but the infrastructure to assist with early cancer detection simply DOES NOT EXIST. We can’t just go to our doctors and say “test me for every cancer imaginable!” – we’d get laughed out of the office. I am anything but apathetic about my health, but all my non-apathy in the world won’t help me detect cancer early: I can’t get a mammogram; I don’t fall under the appropriate mammogram age group. I pleaded with them – my breasts are unwieldy; I’d never be able to feel a lump in there – but no; I couldn’t possibly need a mammogram because I’m under 40! Something desperately needs to change, but I don’t think blaming everything on the perceived apathy of people is the right answer.
  • The people on stage trying to pump us up before the first speaker – my notes say “SCIENTOLOGY” in big(ger than usual) letters, underlined three times. I think I was trying to say that this must be what scientology meetings feel like; it was a little surreal and very rah rah rah aren’t we [the attendees] brilliant, which made me feel weird. It was kind of like watching a charlatan motivational speaker cum cult leader do his mind control tricks; I was particularly glad I did not drink the offered juice on the breakfast tables.
  • Videos from previous TED talks were played in between each live speaker, and some were fantastic. Unfortunately, the very first video played was the talk given by the guy who started 4chan – and it was basically a talk about how awesome 4chan is. The instant this started playing, the entire day lost a lot of its meaning to me – these are not things to be applauded. 4chan and /b are not the Robin Hoods of the internet, doing good deeds for the sake of mankind. They are not heroes trying to make a difference in the world; they are not the A-Team. They are vigilantes with their own agenda. They are anarchists looking for something to do. They are hackers, trolls, troublemakers and creepy people who can get things done by sheer force of overwhelming numbers and knowledge of parlour tricks that most of the internet is not aware of. This isn’t to say that 4chan hasn’t done some good – of course they have; there is proof of that – but the game plan wasn’t “let’s go out and help people”; it’s more “well, there’s nothing else to do so let’s fuck the bad guys up”. Comments around me and online were being made about how incredible this 4chan/b thing is, and NONE of these people have ever been to the site – you can tell, because they are not aware of the horrible, horrible lines that have been not just crossed but repeatedly pissed on, run over and displayed for all to see. I was so audibly “WHAT THE FUCK” about the 4chan video that Miranda asked me what was wrong, to which I could only shake my head in response. Being responsible for LOLCats and Rickrolling does not equal greatness. As someone who has been online since the dawn of time – much of that time in the trenches – it was astounding to see something like 4chan and /b trotted out like a tame gibbering mouther on a leash to be admired and petted. There was a reason Hannibal Lecter was kept strapped to a dolly in a straight jacket and mask.
  • There wasn’t enough to drink on site – water was difficult to get to and the only caffeine options were coffee and tea – if Josh hadn’t brought me emergency Diet Coke, I might have been REALLY THIRSTY AND SLEEPY.
  • I did not get the talk on Transformational Festivals and the New Evolutionary Culture talk at ALL. Wooooosh, right over my head. I felt as though I should have brought a pacifier and candy necklace to the session.
  • All the emphasis on being green and minimizing the carbon footprint, yet the (admittedly cool) water bottles we were given were made in China – it would have been awesome to have had some locally sourced swag, as the sheer amount of effort to get things made in China and shipped to Canada can hardly have a minimal carbon footprint or be called green.

And lastly:

The Bad

Miranda and I did not get to check out the last three speakers of the day; the three talks that, according to Twitter, blew everyone away. We left the event just as the last portion of the day started, solely because of the actions of one employee of the Kay Meek Center who we shall call Meana:

I bolted out of the end of the second session because I could feel a panic attack brewing. Miranda and I chose to sit in the middle of the aisle to minimize the number of times she’d had to stand up to let other people by – hard to do on a busted knee. Unfortunately, after 5 hours of this, my aversion to crowds and being trapped kicked in and I was beginning to panic about my inability to leave the auditorium if I needed to. I escaped as soon as I could and made my way outside to get some fresh air and elbow room, and all was good.

We decided that we would watch the last session in the lounge; an area that was set up for people with kids and those who wanted to use laptops during the event. The room had couches and tables and the video from the stage streaming in, and it was perfect – Miranda could put her knee up, I could breathe AND use my iPad, and life was good.

Until we got kicked out. Unbeknownst to us, the lounge was shut down for the third session so the volunteers could begin to clean up. We were told we could sit outside the auditorium and watch the TV there, which was fine – we waited until everyone had filed in, and moved some seats so we could watch the action on stage. Everything was going swimmingly for about 5 minutes – we were watching a powerful piece on racism by Kyprios – when an employee of the Center (the aforementioned Meana) turned the sound on the TV off. As I do not read lips, we protested that we were told we could watch the presentations where we were and muting the sound was detrimental to that effort – but Meana not only did not care, she was incredibly rude about it. When a TEDxVolunteer told her that the sound should be turned up, she did so to a point where it was only audible if you were directly under the TV, with your head inside the audio booth. We explained to her that this was not working, and she rudely shrugged us off saying “Well, *I* can hear it” and walked away.

We gave up on having our precious space/panic-attack-free day and went into the auditorium to catch the rest of Kyprios’ act. We stood for a while at the top of the stairs, but seeing no available seats that weren’t in the dead center of the auditorium, we went out and around to the left side to try our luck there. Again, there were no seats available – so we crammed ourselves behind a pillar, on the stairs but completely out of the way of anyone.

Meana came storming into the auditorium and told us we had to move. I understood the fire risk, but the way she handled it was just appalling (and this is from someone who has been appalled maybe once before in her life) – we explained to her that there were no seats available, and as M had a broken leg, we couldn’t simply waltz into the middle of room for a seat – she needed to keep her leg straight. Upon hearing this, Meana turned to me and said “Well, what’s wrong with you then?” I rather incredulously replied that I was M’s companion, and we would be staying together to watch this event that we had paid money to attend. Meana argued with us both, being extremely rude and dismissive the entire time, then marched forward and ordered a woman sitting on the end of a row out of her seat. When the woman quite rightly protested and said she was sitting with her partner, Meana then ordered BOTH of them to move so we could have their seats. This was a horrible solution for several reasons – first, I’m not going to be responsible for kicking someone out of their seats and second, it didn’t solve the issue of elevating M’s leg. We both decided that this was completely unacceptable, and left the event in the middle of Devdutt Pattanaik’s video from TEDIndia 2009; the one talk that actually got to me on an inspirational level.

I complained on Twitter, M wrote a very straight-forward and honest letter, and that’s that. We missed out on a great deal at TEDxVancouver through no fault of the organizers (although next time, please make the lounge accessible for the entire event), but had everything to do with the rudeness and incompetence of the Kay Meek Center. According to their website, the Center has accessible seating available – but this was not offered or mentioned at any time; we got nothing but a disgusting amount of rudeness and lack of accommodation from the Front of House Manager Meana, which went a long way in ruining our day.

Seriously, she was a total bitch. I am pretty choked that this ignorant woman kept me from seeing the speakers I really wanted to check out, and the after party – my mood was pretty dark after that, and I was in no shape for festivities. Meana of the Kay Meek Center, you owe me 1/3 of a TEDxVancouver experience AND a kick-ass after party and you are a horrible person to boot.

So, after all that, what about the application process to attend? Did I gain any insight as to why; see a reason for the stringent entry system?

Yes – and I stand by my original statement that it was completely unnecessary.

If the TEDx events were about interaction and the *sharing* of ideas, then I think the application process would absolutely make sense: you want the best and the brightest; people who have something to say and are passionate about their beliefs. However, as I mentioned above, TEDx is a speaker series – you sit in an auditorium, and you listen to people speak. That’s it. There’s no interaction, no Q and A, no break out sessions to discuss the topics at hand – it’s listening to people on stage, and watching videos of people on stage. Throw in the fact that every talk was streamed live online so anyone could watch, and you have zero reason to cull attendees like that. Sure, there were breaks in the day where people could talk, but they mostly consisted of standing in line for the washroom/coffee and getting some air. It’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation when you’re milling about a relatively small space with 500 other people trying to dive head first into the caffeine.

I get the impression that most people who wanted to attend the event live did manage to get in, but I did see some disappointed people in Twitter who did not get invitations. This makes me feel bad, because I got in with my saucy application – I don’t like the idea of someone reading my words and putting me in the yes pile, then reading someone else’s possibly equally saucy words and having that person denied. Adding to my raised but impeccable eyebrow over the whole thing is the fact that Renee got in. This is nothing against Renee at all – I love her to pieces; having known her since she was a virgin – but this was her application. Yes, she uses big words that were all spelled correctly – a rarity in our increasingly illiterate internet – but dude, if you thought my application was rude and arrogant (sight unseen, mind you, as I didn’t post it) – what could you possibly think about that? She didn’t attend the event meaning no one had to be disgusted that people like her were attending (I missed you yesterday, Sarah), but the fact remains that someone decided that she should be there while someone else should not – and that stinks.

I liked a lot of TEDxVancouver, didn’t care for some parts of it, but appreciate what they’re trying to do. I don’t think it’s my favourite kind of event – I much prefer things with interaction and less horrible women who yell at me for trying to watch – but it was a good experience; one I wish I could have seen in full. Will I apply to attend next year? That depends on the speakers, but probably not – I will stick to the events in Vancouver that I can be a real part of instead of just a witness to inspiration. As you might be able to tell by this 3000 word post on how I spent my Saturday, I have a lot to say and I’d love to share ideas with others – we all heard about other people doing good; it’s time to go out and do some ourselves, and everyone is invited.

how to wear your TEDxBadge: Evil, Good, or Chaotic Evil. Being different is AWESOME!

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