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Loud Dog goes to TEDxBerkeley

By on Mar 7, 2011 in Loud Dog Culture

I’ve been a huge fan of TED talks, mostly from the comfort of my laptop while I’m still in bed, so when I had the opportunity to attend TEDxBerkeley in person, I was thrilled. That excitement was only slightly dampened by the chilly temperatures, wind, and rain that plagued the Bay Area on that special day in February. I arrived ready to learn, to be inspired, and maybe to meet some new friends (yes, that’s a euphemism for networking).

photo by sociate

Appealing to my art history background and appreciation for irreverence, landscape architect Walter Hood was hands-down my favorite speaker. Hood spoke about a new sort of urban planning, one that takes a step back from the over-thought, over-engineered styles of recent urban projects (the Emeryville Bay Street shopping center, anyone?) to emphasize history, community, people, and the environment. He spoke of his involvement with the Hill District in Pittsburgh, PA, integrating the area’s music scene into a public art piece, complete with over 5,000 photos from local residents. He also plans to make the neighborhood’s green space more accessible — but instead of putting in walking trails (because he believes people should enjoy nature by walking wherever they please), he referenced historical maps of the area that showed where rivers used to flow and is attempting to restore the landscape to its previous state. He objects to the codification of spaces, that this is where the kids will play or that this is where people will come to enjoy nature, demonstrating truly integrated design.

David Silverman, an animator for The Simpsons, was the most TED-like of all the speakers. He arrived onstage playing the tuba and went on to connect his childhood love for the tuba, his animation career, the tuba’s historical evolution, and the Simpsons in a funny, engaging way. Personal passions, professional life, educational topics, and pop culture? Sounds like TED to me.

The speaker I found most meaningful was Robert Fuller, former president of Oberlin College and author of Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank. Fuller is credited with identifying “rankism,” which is more all-encompassing than racism, sexism, ageism, and the like. A sort of intellectual Mr. Rogers, Fuller spoke about the “the dignity movement,” saying, “dignity means there’s a place for me.” Fuller gave a powerful delivery of a very simple message– we need to be nicer to each other. We need to acknowledge each other’s contributions. As a cynic and glass half-empty kind of girl, Fuller gave me the nudge I needed to put more care and consideration into my interactions with others. Not preachy or cheesy, the experience was more of a stern warning about the sour direction our society’s interpersonal communication skills have taken.

I’m grateful for my experience at TEDxBerkeley, but there is room for improvement. I’m not as unhappy as this girl, but then again, TEDx events aren’t quite as exclusive as the main TED events. And that’s part of the problem. The TEDx events seek to make TED programming more accessible to average people, rather than superstars. But with accessibility (almost anyone can host, speak at, or attend a TEDx event) comes a compromise in quality. Some of the speakers were self-help gurus (I’m sure they would shun that title, but that’s what they were). There’s a delicate line between professional motivational speakers who use tools like S.M.A.R.T. goals or self-actualization and people who are inspiring because of their personal and professional stories and passions. TEDxBerkeley had a mix of both, but I would have preferred fewer of the former and more of the latter.

The kind of people who speak at or attend TED events are the kind of people you want to meet– they have great ideas (“ideas worth spreading” is the TED tagline) and they’re interested in cool stuff (Technology, Education, Design). But people are shy little sheep! Unless  you force people to meet each other, literally giving them a script on how to introduce themselves, they won’t usually seek out that experience on their own. In the marketing materials and in speeches from the event hosts, we were constantly reminded of the networking possibilities and to get friendly with our neighbors. I only witnessed this happen one time the entire day, as a perky girl with a Swedish accent introduced herself to someone she sat down next to in the auditorium. The event hosts could have facilitated the networking process to make it more comfortable and more effective for attendees.

Despite my misgivings, I’ll still keep an eye on other TEDx events (TEDxSan Jose and TEDxPresidio are quickly approaching) for the chance of being even a little bit inspired.

Hey! This wasn't written by a quiver of finches! It was written by , who does awesome work at Loud Dog, a digital branding firm in San Francisco that helps businesses express themselves authentically via identities, websites, and marketing collateral.

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