Text by Maria Popova; artwork by Len Kendall
After a riveting first day, day two of TEDGlobal opened with a talk by Global Voices founder Ethan Zuckerman, who offered as much a bold case for globalization as he did a cautionary tale of the implicit hazards in it. Zuckerman pointed to "imaginary cosmopolitanism"—our tendency to think we know what's happening all over the world, while in actuality we're presented with a media-framed sliver of that reality—as a dangerous delusion driven by media's continued failure to reflect an increasingly global and connected world.
"We need to cultivate xenophiles," Zuckerman said, emphasizing the need for "bridge figures"—people equally immersed in and knowledgeable about different cultures, who are able to use that knowledge and insight as a cross-pollinator between these communities.
This segued nicely into novelist Elif Shafak's eloquent ode to the importance of opening ourselves up to others and to the world at large. The author of the critically acclaimed The Forty Rules of Love explored how the world of identity politics affects the way stories are told and circulated. Storytelling, she contested, is a powerful antidote to the deadening isolation of the soul that takes place as we build walls around it.
"Stories help us get a glimpse of each other and, sometimes, maybe even like what we see."
Elif Shafak, Novelist, during TEDGlobal 2010 Session 3: Found in Translation, July 2010 in Oxford, England. Credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED
Shafak called for moving from "I think, therefore I am" to "I feel, therefore I am free"—the liberating power of empathy through storytelling.
"Identity politics is made of solid bricks. Fiction is flowing water."
Infographic curator David McCandless followed with a case for another form of cultural storytelling: Data visualization.
David McCandless, Data journalist, during TEDGlobal 2010 Session 3: Found in Translation, July 2010 in Oxford, England. Credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED
"Visualizing information is a form of knowledge compression," McCandless said as he spoke of the fluidity with which our brains process and extract insight from visual information. "Patterns of shape and color are the language of the eye."
He pointed to the importance of information relativity—understanding not only absolute data but also how different data sets relate to one another—in crafting a more complete conception of a topic. For instance, this visual timeline of global media panic has an odd gap in late 2001, one that would make little sense outside the context of the September 11 attacks, which in fact gave the world a very real reason for fear and panic, reducing the usual media exaggeration to actual, reality-based reporting.
Jerusalem-born singer-songwriter Mor Karbassi filled the theater with Middle-Eastern magic and breathtaking vocals.
Mor Karbasi, Singer-songwriter, during TEDGlobal 2010 Session 3: Found in Translation, July 2010 in Oxford, England. Credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED
Facial surgeon Iain Hutchison raised the question of how our face frames our identity.
"When we change people's faces, are we changing their identity? For better or for worse?"
Iain Hutchison, Facial surgeon, during TEDGlobal 2010 Session 3: Found in Translation, July 2010 in Oxford, England. Credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED
Hutchison pointed to the need to develop viable face transplant medical technology as a necessary quality-of-life intervention for violence victims and facial disease patients. (His graphic images of patients with their entire faces shot off sent some of the more squeamish TEDsters in the room running for the doors.) Hutchison's charity, Saving Faces, offers facial reconstruction surgery to those whose lives are severly impeded by facial deformity.
Session Four, titled Irrational Choices, opened with psycho-economist Sheena Iyengar's keen discussion of the flawed and illogical ways in which we choose, emphasizing that the value of choice depends almost entirely on our ability to perceive the differences between options—which we very frequently don't.
"Research shows we can't really tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi. Choice is about who we are just as much as what the product is."
Iyengar raised an interesting point about the cultural norms of choice—in the West, it's treated as a private act and framed as fundamental to freedom, to the American Dream. But limitless choice can be overwhelming and stressful rather than empowering, often making us unhappy with the choices that we do make.
"Choice can develop into the very opposite of what it represents—freedom—when thrust upon those unprepared for it."
Iyengar's latest book, The Art of Choosing, offers a deluge of insight into how we choose and how to immunize ourselves against our own psychological flaws.
Cognitive psychologist Laurie Santos drew some striking comparisons between primate and human cognition, stating semi-jokingly that the most embarrassing thing about the mistakes we make is just how predictable they are.
Cold-water swimmer Lewis Pugh, who told the story of swimming across the North Pole at last year's TEDGlobal, relayed his latest adventure swimming in a lake on Mount Everest. Part extreme sport, part environmental activism, his swims aim to raise awareness about high-risk ecological regions.
Lewis Pugh, TEDGlobal 2010. Oxford, UK, July 12-16, 2010. Credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED
"Melting glaciers in the Himalayas are the next big battleground on this Earth—three billion people rely on their water."
Comedians Jamil Abu-Wardeh and Maz Jobrani, of the excellent Axis of Evil Comedy Tour, rocked the house with brilliant wit and humor, underlying which was a profound observation of the biased narratives the media use in portraying those of Middle-Eastern origin as "bombers, billionaires, and belly-dancers."
Jamil Abu-Wadeh, TEDGlobal 2010. Oxford, UK, July 12-16, 2010. Credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED
Opening Session Five, Healthier Together, analytical psychologist Inge Missmahl pointed to some devastating examples of how residents of conflict zones resort to violence towards their family members—beating wives and children—in a misguided attempt to regain a sense of control over the world. She offered a solution to violence in Afghanistan rooted in developing a culturally sensitive psychosocial intervention approach.
The ever-amazing Annie Lennox followed up yesterday's breathtaking musical performance with the equally moving story of her AIDS activism through her SING campaign inspired by Nelson Mandela.
HIV/AIDS activist Michael Besser opened with the stride-stopping statistic that 40 percent of children in the developing world are born infected with HIV, compared to 2 percent in the West. He called for finding better ways to provide medical care, beyond doing tests and giving drugs, instead engaging entire communities in caregiving and, in the process, changing national attitudes towards women, AIDS, and social stigma. Besser's Mothers2Mothers nonprofit casts HIV-positive mothers as caregivers and educators to their communities, empowering and enlightening those affected by the far-reaching social consequences of the AIDS epidemic.
Turkish-born, Amsterdam-based singer-songwriter Karsu Dönmez channeled a young Diana Krall with a kick of Amy Winehouse and an undercurrent of Janis Joplin as she filled the room with powerful vocals and multilingual magic.
Karsu Dönmez, TEDGlobal 2010. Oxford, UK, July 12-16, 2010. Credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED
John Hardy, founder of Indonesia's Green School, offered a tour of the school and the curriculum vision, infused with innovative sustainable alternatives like using car windshields with white paper stretched behind them instead of traditional PVC whiteboards.
Sustainable chef-activist Arthur Potts Dawson, called out restaurants as the world's most wasteful industry, second only to war. He pointed to four types of waste—waste of time, waste of space, waste of energy, and waste of waste—and offered examples of solutions to each from his restaurants. Waterhouse, for instance, is a fully no-carbon restaurant, running entirely on hydroelectricity from kitchen to dining room.
The day's final and most compelling session, Different by Design, opened with an excerpt from Miwa Matreyek's enchanted performance animation, Dreaming of Lucid Living.
MIT's Neil Gershenfeld, mastermind of the ingenious FabLab—or fabrication laboratory—offered a vision for the future of computing alongside a sampler of the fascinating projects coming out of FabLab, such as this wireless network made of junk.
Neil Gershenfeld, Physicist, personal fabrication pioneer, during TEDGlobal 2010 Session 6: Different by Design, July 2010 in Oxford, England. Credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED
"Interfacing between digital worlds is a new form of literacy. Your brain doesn't execute lines of code—everything happens everywhere all the time."
Entrepreneur Tan Le, founder of neuroengineering startup Emotiv, recruited Seeper's Evan Grant to demo her incredible "mind-reading" device by making a virtual cube move and disappear purely with his mind, to the crowd's gasping disbelief.
Evan Grant during TEDGlobal 2010 Session 6: Different by Design, July 2010 in Oxford, England. Credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED
Green designer Eben Bayer showcased MycoBond, his brilliant alternative to synthetic glue made out of mycelium extracted from mushrooms—non-toxic, fully biodegradable foam-like material that can be used in packaging and insulation, harnessing nature's own recycling system.
Voting system designer David Bismark contested that transparent and verifiable elections are the next step for democracy. His innovative paper ballot, which leaves the voter with a barcode-like "digital receipt," addresses the verifiability component in a simple yet effective way.
For an appropriately compelling finale of the Different by Design session and the day at large, Emily Pilloton of Project H Design offered a case study that embodies her six guiding principles of design for social change:
There is no design without action
Design with, not for
Document, share, and measure
Start locally, scale globally
Design systems, not stuff
Pilloton's talk was very much an eloquent, reality-rooted response to Bruce Nussbaum's Is Humanitarian Design the New Imperialism? op-ed, which stirred quite a kerfuffle in the social design community last week.
Emily Pilloton, Humanitarian design activist, during TEDGlobal 2010 Session 6: Different by Design, July 2010 in Oxford, England. Credit: James Duncan Davidson / TED
Pilloton's book, Design Revolution: 100 Products That Empower People, came out last fall and is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in how humanitarian design can lay the groundwork for a smarter, more sustainable future of society. Which, perhaps, should be everyone.
Maria Popova is the editor of Brain Pickings, a curated inventory of miscellaneous interestingness. She writes for Wired UK, Big Think and Huffington Post, and spends a shameful amount of time on Twitter.