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posted by n1 on Tuesday March 17 2015, @06:55PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the expensive-echo-chamber dept.

Megan Hustad writes in the NYT that while it’s not exactly fair to say that the TED conference series and web video function like an organized church, understanding the parallel structures is useful for conversations about faith, how susceptible we humans remain to the cadences of missionary zeal, and how the TED style with its promise of progress, is as manipulative as the orthodoxies it is intended to upset. According to Hustad, a great TED talk is reminiscent of a tent revival sermon, a gathering of the curious and the hungry. "A persistent human problem is introduced, one that, as the speaker gently explains, has deeper roots and wider implications than most listeners are prepared to admit," says Hustad. "Once everyone has been confronted with this evidence of entropy, contemplated life’s fragility and the elusiveness of inner peace, a decision is called for: Will you remain complacent, or change?" TED talks routinely present problems of huge scale and scope — we imprison too many people; the rain forest is dying; look at all this garbage; we’re unhappy; we have Big Data and aren’t sure what to do with it — then wrap up tidily and tinily. Do this. Stop doing that. Buy an app that will help you do this other thing. "I never imagined that the Baptists I knew in my youth would come to seem mellow, almost slackers by comparison," concludes Hustad. "Of course they promoted Jesus as a once-and-done, plug-and-play solver of problems — another questionable approach."

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  • (Score: 5, Interesting) by ikanreed on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:13PM

    by ikanreed (3164) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:13PM (#159018) Journal

    The problem we've got is that you're comparing TED to serious academia where people are expected to demonstrate their claims meaningfully(in a way specific to their field's requirements) or to the real world(where people just want shit done).

    But that's not what level TED is operating at. It's operating like a filter on shitty opinion vlogs where only ones engaging a particular issue with a degree of sincerity get through. They mostly cut out pseudoscience based on non-fact. They mostly cut out people who have literally no idea what they're talking about. If you want more than that, go find people actually doing something.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by VLM on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:25PM

      by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:25PM (#159022)

      So its basically a "History Channel" dramatized documentary. At least before they went full on reality TV and you can't tell what channel you're watching anymore.

      • (Score: 4, Interesting) by ikanreed on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:47PM

        by ikanreed (3164) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:47PM (#159036) Journal

        Yeah, that's a pretty fair comparison. Pre-reality TV TLC or Discovery or History channels. A thick layer of popularization with some good material to be found underneath.

      • (Score: 3, Informative) by kaszz on Wednesday March 18 2015, @01:09AM

        by kaszz (4211) on Wednesday March 18 2015, @01:09AM (#159144) Journal

        "History Channel" runs the Ancient Aliens [wikipedia.org] show which is a complete pseudoscience- and history pile of shit. There's a lot of other programming on that channel that fit in that category too. So that TV-channel has no credibility.

        If TED has wandered into to that territory it doesn't sound good.

    • (Score: 4, Interesting) by TheB on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:23PM

      by TheB (1538) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:23PM (#159050)

      That's why I like listening to podcasts like The Naked Scientist who try to interview the researchers and scientist involved in the stories.

  • (Score: 5, Funny) by Soybean on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:23PM

    by Soybean (5020) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:23PM (#159020)

    > how the TED style with its promise of progress, is as manipulative as the orthodoxies it is intended to upset.

    This is a serious problem and I eagerly await a TED presentation to better explain it and tell me what to do about it.

  • (Score: 2) by VLM on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:28PM

    by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:28PM (#159024)

    The thing I find most annoying is people considering TED as a primary/sole source. That's very rare indeed, and highly annoying.

    • (Score: 2, Funny) by iWantToKeepAnon on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:23PM

      by iWantToKeepAnon (686) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:23PM (#159052) Homepage Journal
      Unless a wikipedia article cites TED as the source, then it's ok.
      --
      "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." -- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • (Score: 3, Funny) by VLM on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:35PM

    by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:35PM (#159027)

    The bad news is a bunch of stuff sucks. And you spent $8K to hang out with a bunch of people instead of fixing it.

    But the good news is you get to hang out only with people capable of dropping $8K, and all you really need to do is buy a colored ribbon made in a chinese slave labor factory and put it on your SUV, Ferrari, or Gulfstream bizjet, and its all good.

    Despite the authors claim they always propose trite solutions, they had a series of "Ted on a tugboat" or whatever some years back and basically all the presentations were "we're screwed we suck" so I started deleting them instead of watching.

    They have a RSS feed which miro reads, then mirobridge imports them magically into my decade+ old mythtv system, then I watch them in my living room. I do the same thing with some NASA video feeds, a couple TWIT video shows. The UI for mythtv rocks and the UI for youtube sucks. Also ...buffering... using mythtv to download ...buffering... ahead of time I can watch HDTV quality without ...buffering... like youtube.

    • (Score: 2, Interesting) by redneckmother on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:53PM

      by redneckmother (3597) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:53PM (#159042)

      This a bit OT, but...

      I use a cronjob script with youtube-dl to get the clips I want in the wee hours... it also helps to to manage my data caps (additional download allocation is available to me from 02:00 to 08:00, local time). I edit a "queue file" with the URLs I want, and watch the results the next day.

      --
      Mas cerveza por favor.
      • (Score: 2) by VLM on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:54PM

        by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:54PM (#159061)

        OK interesting. I download modded minecraft video series from youtube (everyone has their secret shame) into /var/youtube and then run a "simple" bash script mythmediamonitor 0.7 to insert the shows into my recorded items. Its just a symlink from /var/recordings to /var/youtube. From memory I had to add a .webm handler to the mythtv gui for /var/video but the built in player doesn't understand webm so I get the joy of converting file types by hand. You get to manually delete files from /var/youtube after they're viewed and deleted. Also if you view and delete episode 7 and re-run mythmediamonitor then it'll happily re-import episode 7.

        For something I'll watch once and never again, I prefer the "watch recordings" functionality including deletion. For something I'll "keep forever" it goes into the mythtv video system.

        Despite the above, sadly, its much more convenient and enjoyable than using a youtube app or screencasting or any of that. In fact the youtube app totally sucks for episodic content, its oriented strictly around cat video consumption.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Dunbal on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:45PM

    by Dunbal (3515) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:45PM (#159034)

    TED is just another example of something that was good before it became popular but has prostituted its brand so much that it is now meaningless.

    • (Score: 1) by srobert on Wednesday March 18 2015, @06:00PM

      by srobert (4803) on Wednesday March 18 2015, @06:00PM (#159498)

      Yes. Rather like the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People". It was interesting to me until corporate bosses got a hold of it and turned it into a cult.

  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Thexalon on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:52PM

    by Thexalon (636) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:52PM (#159039)

    1. The world is complicated. Too complicated to explain the real solution to any real problem in 20 minutes. So instead of actually solving a problem, the speaker must instead present something that sounds like a solution to the uninformed ears of their audience, ideally in a really inspirational way so that it sounds like it would actually work, but must completely oversimplify it or ignore any problems that might be implied by their proposed solutions.

    2. The audience for TED are people with a lot of spare time and money, and that means that they have certain values and believe they are some of the smartest people in existence. That means that speakers must tailor their presentation to match those values and beliefs. Specific ideas that must not be challenged include: (a) Human potential is maximized through technological progress and business. (b) Richer people are smarter than poorer people. (c) There is nothing wasteful about traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to hear a speech. (d) Everyone has a smartphone.

    --
    The inverse of "I told you so" is "Nobody could have predicted"
    • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:58PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:58PM (#159043)

      > (b) Richer people are smarter than poorer people

      Puhleaze. It took me 10 seconds with google to come up with one counter-example:
      microfinance [ted.com] - the idea of making tiny loans to poor people because they are best able to determine how to spend it for maximum improvement in quality of life

      I am pretty confident that if I actually tried, I'd find a ton more examples of TED topics that advocate for letting the non-rich make important decisions.

      • (Score: 5, Informative) by vux984 on Tuesday March 17 2015, @10:01PM

        by vux984 (5045) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 17 2015, @10:01PM (#159082)

        Puhleaze. It took me 10 seconds with google to come up with one counter-example:

        A counter-example doesn't refute a generalization.

        microfinance - the idea of making tiny loans to poor people because they are best able to determine how to spend it for maximum improvement in quality of life

        The microfinance movement is simply the process of making tiny loans period. Loans so small the usual administrative overhead rendered them non-viable. It doesn't service as evidence of intelligence either way; except perhaps to highlight that people are only best able to manage loans proportionate to their income / net worth; but that's hardly new or insightful.

        That said, the argument that the rich are smarter than the poor doesn't hold a lot of water. However there is some validity to the observation that stupid people who manage their own money will generally end up poor. And that smart people who manage their own money will end up wealthier. The disconnect between that and reality though is that lots of rich people don't manage their own money (perhaps their smartest move); and that lots of intelligent poor people don't have sufficient money to get ahead in the first place. So you can have plenty of dumb rich people and smart poor people despite the previous observation.

        • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @10:14PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @10:14PM (#159087)

          To be entirely accurate there is evidence that poor people really are less intelligent than rich people, for a very specific measure of intelligence. Poor people have more stress, less options, worse food, and an overall lower quality of life. This can be reflected in standardized tests as a statistically lower score in the same way that stressed people of similar socioeconomic status would score lower. These findings are of limited meaning as all that has been found is a well-known secondary effect that explains a correlation.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @12:24AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @12:24AM (#159131)

            To be entirely accurate there is evidence that poor people really are less intelligent than rich people, for a very specific measure of intelligence.

            [citation needed]

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @12:56AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @12:56AM (#159140)

              Either way, there is a level of intelligence waaaay beyond that where one can't have wealth. To live with wealth you basically have to limit your world to a tiny circle jerk of rich friends. This while empathy and intellect comes from salving hard problems in the face of death. Rich people never leave the comfort zone. If they stick their head outside ever so briefly it makes them scream like little girls. This is why TED talks have to comfort the viewer that the problem is going to be fixed without their involvement.

              It is why it is called Entertainment.

              They're in the boredom killing business!

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmdHIVrDBVQ [youtube.com]

              • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @01:45AM

                by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @01:45AM (#159155)

                I still feel like there is something missing, like, i dunno...maybe an actual citation? Or, are you just going to make this bald assertion and expect that the rest of us won't notice while you strike a self-confident pose? You could redeem yourself by providing actual evidence for your claim, but I'm guessing you have none. Go ahead, prove me wrong. I dare you!

          • (Score: 2) by Magic Oddball on Wednesday March 18 2015, @11:57AM

            by Magic Oddball (3847) on Wednesday March 18 2015, @11:57AM (#159318) Journal

            None of that indicates that poor people are less intelligent — it indicates that humans perform more weakly on standardized tests when they're sick, stressed, or otherwise highly distracted, which is completely different. One is a matter of the actual individual having reduced intellectual capacity, while the other is just a universal side-effect.

            That's all assuming that there really is an overarching "intelligence" that can predict performance in endeavors outside the academic/white-collar professional realm it was originally designed to measure, which is questionable at best. (Even within the academic/professional realm, the presence of conditions like dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention-deficit disorder, etc. altering the person's pattern of abilities suggests that "IQ" isn't remotely as useful as was believed in a simpler age.)

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @06:07AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @06:07AM (#159216)

          A counter-example doesn't refute a generalization.

          It does refute a generalization without even a single example to back it up.
          1 > 0

      • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Jeremiah Cornelius on Tuesday March 17 2015, @10:13PM

        by Jeremiah Cornelius (2785) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @10:13PM (#159085) Journal

        The point of the parent is comment is not invalidated by your example. The target audience of the Microfinance talk is NOT the recipients of microloans. It is the feel-good "this is how finance capitalism really saves the world, and acquires a heart of compassion" BULLSHIT aimed at the intelligent but time-strapped young professional. Those who might actually have ethical qualms about corporate capitalism and how they are living well, at the expense of an invisible swath of humanity.

        Fortunately, TED performs its cathartic, mega-church function - reassuring the Betas that microfinance will scale capital finance to the needs of everyone on earth - from Warren Buffet to anonymous South-Asian child-brides.

        But? Microfinance has been a complete failure - and grown a protection/extortion racket of exploitation in the rural areas it was purported to benefit.

        Shockingly, micro-loans aren't all that they've cracked up to be. After years of observation and multiple studies, it turns out that the people benefiting most from micro-loans are the big global financial players: hedge funds, banks and the usual Wall Street hucksters. Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s micro-debtors are either no better off or have been sucked into a morass of crippling debt and even deeper poverty, which offers no escape but death.

        https://www.nsfwcorp.com/dispatch/extraordinary-pierre-omidyar/ [nsfwcorp.com]

        TED - like a mega-church -is just another way to make the sheep docile, as they are led from the pen to the abattoir.

        --
        You're betting on the pantomime horse...
        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @12:47AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @12:47AM (#159135)

          But? Microfinance has been a complete failure - and grown a protection/extortion racket of exploitation in the rural areas it was purported to benefit.

          Have you got another (more reputable) citation than nsfwcorp.com? McAfee's URL filter database is blocking this one.

          Shockingly, micro-loans aren't all that they've cracked up to be. After years of observation and multiple studies, it turns out that the people benefiting most from micro-loans are the big global financial players: hedge funds, banks and the usual Wall Street hucksters.

          The question isn't who is benefiting the most from the micro-loan programs but whether micro-debtors are benefiting substantially (or, at all) from these micro-loan programs. You obviously think they are not. Which leads me to ask, what would you suggest instead? I am genuinely curious to know.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @04:22AM

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @04:22AM (#159198)

            He's right in that there are plenty of examples of indiscriminately managed microfinance programs that have caused great harm - one of the more common problems happens when people "borrow from peter to pay paul" going from one lender to pay off the previous lender. The basic lesson is that while good management doesn't guarantee success, bad management guarantees failure. The big finance corps essentially guarantee bad management because their goal is self-enrichment, not community enrichment. Operating under the "greed is good" premise they maximize the greed part, not the good part.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday March 18 2015, @02:38AM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 18 2015, @02:38AM (#159174) Journal

      The world is complicated. Too complicated to explain the real solution to any real problem in 20 minutes.

      TED provides counterexamples [ted.com]. TL;DR version is that the world is collectively moving to greater wealth per capita (along with many features associated with greater wealth), better education, more democracy, fewer population problems, etc contrary to popular belief. What is traditionally perceived as problems, aren't in the long run. End result is a variety of perceived unsolvable global problems get moved by the lecturer, Hans Rosling to the already solved pile in about 19 minutes.

      This also reminds me of relationship advice. A lot of times, the "relationship experts" can find out quickly what's wrong with a relationship, sometimes within a minute or two and give good advice. The problem is that generally this advice is not what the asker wants to hear and thus, that makes it likely that the advice will get ignored. And that's really what's wrong with the twenty minute solution to the complex problem. Sure, you can come up with a solution that readily fixes the issues involved and present them in twenty minutes, but that's not going to result in people embracing the solution, especially if they really don't want to solve the problem.

  • (Score: 2) by fadrian on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:53PM

    by fadrian (3194) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:53PM (#159041) Homepage

    It's metastasized.

    --
    That is all.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:58PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @07:58PM (#159044)

    If revival sermons were effective at communicating ideas to people then is it a bad thing to emulate?
    Almost Godwin: If someone gives a presentation about hand-washing that is reminiscent of effective communication strategies used by Hitler then is that a problem?

    • (Score: 2) by vux984 on Tuesday March 17 2015, @10:46PM

      by vux984 (5045) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 17 2015, @10:46PM (#159099)

      If revival sermons were effective at communicating ideas to people then is it a bad thing to emulate?

      If its effective because it shuts down people's ability to be properly informed, rational, and skeptical then yes it's bad. Revival sermons are effective because of peer pressure; and crowd mentality. They cheer and clap because everyone is cheering and clapping. They walk out believing because everyone else believes. Any idea no matter how catastrophically bad can be effectively communicated and implanted at such events. Recognizing that the event has taken this form and leaving is the only rational response.

      Almost Godwin: If someone gives a presentation about hand-washing that is reminiscent of effective communication strategies used by Hitler then is that a problem?

      Are false promises of showers involved as part of the motivation? Then yes, that's a problem.

  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:25PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:25PM (#159054)

    TED is dead

    • (Score: 0, Offtopic) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @09:25PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @09:25PM (#159071)

      Zed is dead, baby. Zed's dead.

      There. FTFY.

  • (Score: 3, Funny) by Hartree on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:35PM

    by Hartree (195) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:35PM (#159058)

    How dare you blasphemers compare TED to a religion!

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @10:48PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @10:48PM (#159100)

      It's all fun and games until someone draws a picture of Ted

  • (Score: 2) by DeathMonkey on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:50PM

    by DeathMonkey (1380) on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:50PM (#159060) Journal

    The difference is Faith. With a TED talk "that's bullshit" is a valid answer.

    • (Score: 2) by VLM on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:56PM

      by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday March 17 2015, @08:56PM (#159062)

      I donno everyone's clapping and cheering...

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @09:07PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 17 2015, @09:07PM (#159064)

      I'm expecting that at some point there's going to be a TED Talk about how humans could avoid an environmental and economic crisis by heating their homes with warm, litteral, bull shit.

  • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Wednesday March 18 2015, @01:31AM

    by kaszz (4211) on Wednesday March 18 2015, @01:31AM (#159150) Journal

    Could it be that an environment in a anarchy can breed a lot of really crap ideas but also some really brilliant ones. But then someone decides to organize this to make a better use case. This however cause the idea making process to conforming as well and thus really great ideas show up somewhere else ;)

    The sweet spot is likely newly organized environments.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by khallow on Wednesday March 18 2015, @02:09AM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday March 18 2015, @02:09AM (#159164) Journal
    I think the biggest problem with this article, is how could the TED talks be any different? The whole point of the talks are to expose a physically present audience to new ideas for solving existing problems. Further, the structure is very common, we see it in classroom lectures, physical auctions with a designated auctioneer, meetings, opera and musicals, etc. Are we going to get worked up over the similarities of a good classroom lecture or play to a tent revival sermon? What makes TED talks any different?

    When knowledge or entertainment is pushed from a single person or small group to a large number of people present physically, there tend to be only a few usable approaches. Notice here the author isn't comparing TED talks to religion, but rather to tent revival sermons which are a tool for conducting a very similar task. One should expect that the tools of rhetoric, of physically structuring the lecture space and audience placement, and the approach and organization of the lecture would be similar as a result.

    What should be painfully obvious is that this is status signalling, like skyboxes at the Superbowl or box seats at a popular theater. After all, that tent revival sermon doesn't charge you $8500 per head to get in the door to see and be seen (though there might be a request for a higher donation from people in the nice seating).

    Moving on, I grant that there is a religion-like aspect to a ideology system (or rather a loose assembly) associated with this sort of activity, namely, transhumanism. For example, it makes grand promises, such as, the post-scarcity society, nanotech that will fix every problem of the human condition in twenty years, and immortality via technology. But the big difference between transhumanism and actual religion is that these beliefs have a fair chance of manifesting in the real world though perhaps not on the desired schedule.

    Finally, let's keep in mind who's talking. The New York Times has done this sort of thing [nytimes.com] before with blogs ("...for doing what bloggers do — expressing their opinions in provocative and often crude language."). TED is a competing means to get information, which doesn't rely on the NYT as intermediary. So of course, there's something wrong with that.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @05:21AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 18 2015, @05:21AM (#159210)

      > how could the TED talks be any different?

      It could have a paper with each talk, and/or a bunch of citations. Add one or more reviewed journal(s) to the site and assemble an appropriate team for each topic. Rather than reject the paper have the reviewers describe what is wrong with it, then give the author a chance to respond to that.

      They already have something like this for rejected talks but that process is kinda crude.

  • (Score: 2) by JeanCroix on Wednesday March 18 2015, @08:23PM

    by JeanCroix (573) on Wednesday March 18 2015, @08:23PM (#159581)
    The one Ted talk to rule them all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S0FDjFBj8o [youtube.com]