The first TED talks brought together outstanding thinkers from T(echnology), E(ntertainment), and D(esign) tackling difficult problems and solving them with insight and creativity. Once intellectually stimulating presentations, TED talks have devolved into shallow performances that emphasize style over substance. One reason this happened is that there are only a small number of really top minds, so the A-list is exhausted and the B-listers get their chance, and so on down the line. You may have noticed this with the cast of Saturday Night Live. Another is that TED Talks’ emphasis on style became formulaic, like “reality” shows that all follow the same pattern and structure. The focus is now less on new issues and new ideas and more on high-sounding language used to impress people. Think Elmer Gantry and Oral Roberts.
The formula is simple.
- Provide a grossly oversimplified explanation of an issue or problem.
- Package astonishingly obvious observations as remarkably insightful. For example, every person who talks about productivity will tell you how important it is for you to turn off your devices, minimize interruptions, and concentrate on the task at hand. Wow! Really?
- Provide an easy solution, especially of the kind that involves us buying some product or service that will do all the work for us.
Dumbing down produces, well, dumb.
TED has now been called the “insatiable kingpin of international meme laundering” and “a monstrosity that turns scientists and thinkers into low-level entertainers, like circus performers.” The New Republic says TED “is no longer a responsible curator of ideas ‘worth spreading.’ Instead it has become something ludicrous.”
*Ted Baxter was a vain, shallow TV newsman on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.