The TED talks redefine the terms useless, enabling, and self-important in ways I didn’t think possible. I can’t stand them — all too often they’re about verbal prowess for a popular audience masquerading as sophisticated, orignal thought.
But just the other day at TEDGlobal 2011, Alain de Botton apparently uttered these words:
Consider my curiosity piqued. Finally. I’ve watched more than a few videos of speakers that have reputable positions and published interesting, ground-breaking projects, but their TED talks go to the absolute lowest common denominator. What is this, the University of Phoenix? Is this how the elites pay for an education subject to economic forces without much disguise?
What is interesting about the quote? After all Botton’s quote is problematic insofar as it seems to assume education today doesn’t already seek to change, or convert, and continue to habituate the person. In point of fact it does. Look at where the money contributions come from and what they fund. Now look at how Universities are educating their client-consumers (no longer pupils) for the job market. The notion of the liberal arts education is more-or-less already gone. Education is not as neutral as Botton makes it out to be.
Nevertheless, Botton is potentially hitting on something interesting — discipleship — and trying to recover it.
So, while there might finally be something worth pursuing from the TED talks… I can’t because they charge so much. $500 for a webcast subscription to your conference that is frankly more miss than hit? Screw you. And this betrays the point of TED to begin with: the elites are the ones with the most scratch, and therefore beholden to important, cutting-edge knowledge without rubbing shoulders with the unwanted plebeians, who, lucky them, can watch the video clips years after the fact or fad is passed. Indeed the conferences reinforce this class warfare, and not much else besides their ego, through the format of a kind of secret gnosis: sometimes the rich will get together to watch enthralling presentations, often without substance, that reinforces their elitism under the guise of paying a lot of money to weed out the unpromising (read, the monetarily ‘unsuccessful’) so as not to taint the exclusive brilliance of the speakers and audience. In short, a kindergarten version of an academic conference, but with an undue, pretentious air.
And don’t even get me started on the underlying dynamic of progress. I all but named the class warfare noted above as a social darwinism, but there is also a simplistic narrative of technological and cultural progress that underwrites the elitism: we’re so awesome because we can get enlightened speakers and technological wizards to comfort the rich with platitudes only found at a futurist exhibit in a world fair.
I am going to find the person who should have been cited for Botton’s talk. Forget TED. It is largely a very simple introduction to hubris.