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Is TED Making Us Stupid?
May 16, 2010 - 9:02pm

I'm not trying to pay homage to Nicholas Carr and his new book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. I don't think I'll read Carr's new book, as the article that it grows out of -- "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" -- sort of annoyed me.

This past week I had the depressing revelation that TED has ruined me.

Ruined me for talks or presentations where the speaker:

-- Reads from a typed sheet without making (at least) intermittent eye contact with the audience.

-- Fails to use a slide deck to share images or symbols that propel the narrative.

-- Takes 40 minutes to say something that could have been said in 18.

-- Has not taken the time to practice and rehearse the talk.

-- Does not have something to say that is original, passionate, or particularly smart.

Pre-TED, I used to be able to sit through a boring lecture or presentation -- diligently taking notes while being sufficiently nourished by whatever small sliver of new insights or information the speaker could provide. I had patience, fortitude, and a long attention span for the bad presentation. TED has extinguished this valuable skill.

It is not only the example that TED provides on the right way to give a public presentation. Rather, it is the fact that TED talks (and yes many @GoogleTalks) make available a universe of great speakers available at all times. Combine TED, @GoogleTalks, iTunesU with my Touch or iPad, and I have these talks available to me wherever and whenever I want them. The scarcity is not amazing speakers and inspiring presentations, or resources to attend these talks, but time. An hour wasted on a terrible in-person talk is an hour missed from watching something that has every chance of being truly wonderful.

This is not good. As an academic, I need the skill to sit patiently bad presentations. What would an academic conference or symposium be without bad presentations?

I honed this skill over years of graduate school and campus life. Now, like a language brought over from the old country but ignored and neglected by the children of immigrants, my long-form attention span for bad presentations seems to have deserted me.

And I'm afraid that my skills at giving presentations may be falling as much behind the TED model as everyone else's. Who can compete with TED?


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