A TED talk about what's wrong with TED talks


Misread the name of the speaker and wondered if he was going to get younger and younger until he turned into Brad Pitt.


It’s a very good observation to attach placebo to cultural and political movements. This idea really encapsulates the problem that probably started with the whole “self improvement” movement. It’s just graduated to the big time.

I wonder how it ties in with the American lottery winner mentality that promotes our self harming decisions. IBGYBG, amirite?


I’m already re-watching this. And I’m going to have to re-watch it a few more times. There is some real density of thought in this video. It feels tremendously applicable to some of the problems I see in web development culture… which makes sense considering how much technology, entertainment, and design are intertwined in it.

The two thoughts from the video that immediately stick with me the most:

  1. There’s some tremendous tension right now between black/white thinking (things have to be either all bad or all good) versus a more realistic view that things are simply both some good and some bad. Generally this is resolved by people now such that things are either the best, the worse, or simultaneously the best/the worst. We can’t seem to view things just as they are.

  2. The hype cycle is poisoning the well of progress. Everybody wants to be using the newest, best thing. Even more, people want to be the inventor of the new best thing. In the rush, there’s no time for history, philosophy, or ambiguity. We do more compulsively than we do deliberately.


To me he seems to be attacking a straw man. Who really expects TED to be an integral part of any serious discourse? TED just occupies a niche that other popular science TV has left open in its quest to educate us about ice road truckers and whether a shark could eat a dinosaur.


Oh damn, were getting a bit too meta here.

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You know what else is bad? People magazine! It isn’t even peer reviewed!


It also feels like there is a deceptive element we’re missing. I’ve felt the same way about agile development. It sounds like management got together and said, “Hey, let’s make a deal with the devs…they don’t have to write documentation and we can avoid actually managing/making decisions by having the devs a) design stuff on their own, and b) accept last minute feature changes. It’s a win win!”

Last few years have felt like the CEO types have been saying “I dunno, I’m a high level guy…just do something that makes me money. It’s not my job to tell you what, it’s your job to figure it out. You’re special, right?”

I’m expecting some new startup to actually come out and have a mission statement that says “To change things in a way that makes us rich.”


I’ve seen a lot of “Agile” shops that pretty much are Agile in name only, and that seems to be what you’re describing. And it’s a great symptom of this problem that people are moving to Agile without understanding what it is, how it works, where its failings and gotchas are, or anything else other than “everyone else is doing it.”

Half the time I want to shake supposedly-Agile teams out of their stupor and explain that they aren’t actually doing Agile (“we don’t write documentation” is a great indicator that Agile isn’t actually happening), and the other half I want to shake management and explain that Agile will not work for them.

But no, they won’t listen, because it’s the “best”, and it’s the new shiny…


I’m glad to hear my comments resonated with at least one other developer! It means I’m probably not imagining things.

It’s like Evgeny Morozov as a soft-spoken, hyper-articulate visual arts prof at UCSD. But wait no, it’s Benjamin Bratton. You mean we can’t capture Kony and have an app that feeds starving children? The current Silicon Valley boom isn’t the Utopian messiah we’ve been waiting for while watching our torrent queues? Activism is more than an upvote or like? Fuck man, don’t shatter my worldview when I brought these fucking Krispy Kremes to this conference for everybody.


But isn’t the documentation thing in the Agile manifesto?

- Working software over comprehensive documentation

I mean, sure, the whole “less talk, more rock” seems good in principle, but it denies the Pareto Principle. Just because something “works” once doesn’t mean it’ll work in all cases. I suspect that such thinking is why every time some company rolls something out to the public the server unexpectedly bursts into flames.

But it worked in test.

And “responding to change over following a plan” is a great way to flail at the end of a project and miss things like, oh, I dunno, security concerns? If I had a dime for every time a manager thought that decent prototype = shippable product, I’d have at least $10.80.

Agile sounds great for a prototype, but from my experience it doesn’t sound like it scales too well. Management that is more interested in the prototype is a dangerous thing.

I used to think that I was imagining things, but I realized that management usually favors a bunch of isolated folks thinking they’re all nuts.

Kinda like how most companies have a culture of telling employees not to talk about their compensation. Last I checked, the cornerstone of capitalism/economics (at least in the Adam Smith sense) was perfect knowledge, not information asymmetry.


“Who really expects TED to be an integral part of any serious discourse?”

I see a lot of TED-esque presentations and discussions in product design and human factors, especially in businesses that self-identify as entrepreneurial. I don’t think it will be too long before the “TED pitch” becomes a widely accepted part of the design process.


If you can’t convince a VC with a sound idea and a good business plan because your presentation doesn’t have enough"zazz," it’s because capitalism is broken.

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Yes, well, of course; capitalism is broken. Now what?


I’ve reviewed it a few times in the supermarket checkout line, but never taken it home.

However, I am an American, and do not possesses a Peerage.


Obligatory Onion Talks link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aO0TUI9r-So


I guess I’ve been misunderstanding the idea behind TED all these years. I thought it was a purchased opportunity to network with pre-vetted people you wouldn’t ordinarily get together in the same room. The “talks” were just the entertainment portion of the ticket.

To complain about the entertainment being mere entertainment seems to me to not only miss the point but to underscore the uselessness of the cash-in that is TEDx.

Perhaps if the talk was about what’s wrong with TEDx I might be on board.


Doesn’t studying one’s reflection indicate a sort of exhaustion? It’s like the novelist who runs out of ideas and starts writing a novel about the crisis in the life of a novelist who has run out of ideas.

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