TED Talks Are 'Inspiresting.' This Is Not a Compliment

Oscar Schwartz writes a critique of the popular platform
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2022 3:35 PM CST
TED Talks Are 'Inspiresting.' This Is Not a Compliment
   (Getty/Wavebreakmedia)

(Newser) – Oscar Schwartz went back and watched the TED talks from the group's 2015 conference. Bill Gates warned about pandemics, Monica Lewinsky spoke about how to curb online bullying, and a Google engineer described driverless cars. Seven years later, did these "ideas worth spreading"—TED's famous tagline—do any good? Not so much, Schwartz writes in an in-depth critique of the popular speaking forum at the Drift. "In fact, seven years after TED 2015, it feels like we are living in a reality that is the exact opposite of the future envisioned that year," he writes. "A president took office in part because of his talent for online bullying. Driverless cars are nowhere near as widespread as predicted, and those that do share our roads keep crashing. Covid has killed five million people and counting."

All of this speaks to what Schwartz sees as the fundamental failing of TED talks. They are what he calls "inspiresting." That is, the most successful (at least in terms of popularity) TED talks are a formulaic combination of interesting and inspirational. But they are more "earnest and contrived" than effective in bringing about actual change. In referencing a talk given by the now-disgraced Elizabeth Holmes, Schwartz writes that at its peak a decade or so ago, TED became a "magnet for narcissistic, recognition-seeking characters and their Theranos-like projects." The piece traces the platform's origins and rise, noting that while it's not as popular as in years past, TED remains a ubiquitous presence in a number of different formats. Read the full essay, which sees a misstep in the expansion into lower-quality TEDx talks. (Read more Longform stories.)

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