Way back in the early 1980s Richard Wurman had an idea. He thought it would be neat to have a series of short talks about different ideas that were important – ideas that would include the fields of technology, entertainment and design (TED). In 1984 he and Harry Marks set up a conference that featured interesting talks as well as demonstrations of some of the newest technologies including the Apple Macintosh computer and the compact disc (CD). Though the conference didn’t pay for itself, Wurman persevered, and thanks to him we now have the wonderful TED talks which go far beyond the three original subject areas. Some of the presenters, like Bill Gates, Bono, Karen Armstrong, Jane Goodeall, Richard Dawkins, Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright, are well known, but most would be unknown to most people. But the ideas they present are pertinent and unbelievably diverse. The 20 most popular TED talks of all time include “How Schools Kill Creativity” by Ken Robinson; “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” by Amy Cuddy; “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Bolte Taylor; “The Puzzle of Motivation” by Dan Pink; “The Power of Introverts” by Susan Cain; and “Brain Magic” by Keith Barry (this last one is really fun to watch). Every TED talk (and there are over 1,800 of them) is available at the website, and all are free. You can also download a free app to access the talks if you have a smartphone or tablet. There is also a newsletter you can receive daily or weekly that contains the newest TED talks. Another area that might interest you is the “ideas” site. There you can read about things you might want to know about such as “What Makes a Good Education?” “Need to Know: When to Turn off the News,” “8 Books to Lift You Out of Darkness,” “Math 101: A Reading List for Lifelong Learners,” and “Can Imagination Be Measured?”
You can also enjoy the TED talks through an NPR program called the TED Radio Hour that beautifully interweaves parts of TED talks and NPR interviews with the people who gave them. The interviews give you insights into the TED talks that would have been absent otherwise. Since the NPR program is an hour long, there are multiple TED presenters on each show, but each show has a specific topic and all of the segments on that show are in some way related to that topic. Recent topics include: “Animals and Us,” “Unstoppable Learning,” “Making Mistakes,” “Simply Happy,” “Growing Up,” and “Peering into Space.” If you click on “browse past shows” you will see a long list of archived programs.
As I mentioned above, each TED talks is limited to a maximum of 18 minutes. Someone with the organization who realized that the speakers could not present their ideas in depth in that time came up with the bright idea of creating short e-books (again, for smartphones and tablets) that expanded the presenter’s ideas. The books are designed to be read in 60 to 90 minutes, and are filled with special features such as images of famous people mentioned, charts and graphs, beautiful photographs, definitions of technical terms, and much more. There is a different icon for each feature, and a small triangle in the left margin that tells you when you are approaching a line in the text that contains a special feature. Touch the icon and you get the extra information. You can turn the special features icons off if they interfere with your reading. Each book is $2.99.
I got the TED Books app for my iPad free through the App Store. When it came up it showed me a bookcase with all of the TED books that are currently available. Tapping on a book brings up a brief description and two choices: get a preview of the book, or buy it. I bought Homo Evolutis by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans to see how the book app worked. First of all the book is beautiful. It is broken into 25 “chapters” and you read each chapter by scrolling down. At the end of a chapter you swipe to get to the next chapter. I put the word chapters in quotes because some are really photographs and such. All in all, the e-book is quite impressive, and the overall concept of the book and its special features are all well executed.
If you have an inquiring mind, and I know you do, you will spend endless hours enjoying the TED experience.