TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

From civicintelligence

Case Study: Civic Intelligence, Spring 2011

Submitted by: Morgan Reisdorfer


TED began as a nonprofit organization in 1984 with the goal of bringing people and ideas from three "worlds" together: technology, entertainment and design. Since then, the scope has become much more broad, encompassing people and ideas from business, the sciences, culture and arts even speakers on global issues. The first TED Conference was located in Long Beach, California during the spring of 1984 as an experiment that spread like wildfire. Now, in addition to the annual TED Conference, there is TEDGlobal which is the European counterpart held in the summer and located in Edinburg, UK, TEDIndia, TEDWomen and TEDx which are talks held by other independent organizations. The website TEDTalks was launched in 2007 in order for the presentations from all the various TED events to be available online for free (translations included).


The TED structure is wonderfully simple: each speaker has a topic and an allotted amount of time, usually up to 18 minutes, to present. The attendees job is simply to listen, and after the day's presentations are over, there are booths which the presenters set up so any attendees can talk to the speakers or performers after their presentations.

How is this Civic Intelligence?

The definition of civic intelligence can be taken literally from the dictionary by combining the definitions of civic and intelligence:

civic: (adverb) of, or relating to a citizen, a citizenship or community affairs.
intelligence: (noun) meaning the ability to learn, understand or to deal with new or trying situations. It also could mean the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria.

Meaning a citizen, citizenship or city's collective ability to learn, understand or deal with new or trying situations. With this definition, TED.com becomes a website dedicated to civic intelligence. The vast majority of the videos available on the website are speakers who present solutions to problems or speakers who enlighten the audience on matters that they deem important.

Examples of Civic Intelligence From TED.com

TED.com currently has over 1000 videos available for viewing online, here are a few videos that exemplify what this website has to offer. I chose each of these videos because they focus on a part of the TED.com core ideas of technology, entertainment and design. Each of the speakers is also a very important voice in their field of study or work.

Silk, the ancient material of the future

This is a presentation by Professor Fiorenzo Omenetto in May of 2011 on silk and it's many uses in our technologically advanced culture today. Just because we have the ability to make brilliant new technologies for health science and even everyday use, it does not mean that we should overlook older ones; in this case silk. His research has made possible optical fibers made entirely of silk as well as biodegradable pill capsules.

Professor Omenetto's pioneering research in the development of silk use in bioengineering has brought him plenty of attention from big names in the field of technological development. His research is featured in several articles in MIT's Technology Review, most notably in the 2010 Top Ten Technologies Most Likely To Change the World. Professor Omenetto also maintains his own website where his latest breakthroughs and news can be read.

Schools Kill Creativity

This presentation from Sir Ken Robinson in February of 2006 simply states that schools kill creativity in children. He sums this up simply in this presentation when he says: "We do not grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we are educated out of it." Education systems around the United States and the world strip children of their creativity in order to make workers out of them rather than allow them their creativity and make thinkers out of them. Sir Robinson also explains that the teachers and professors stigmatize being wrong and students come to fear being wrong so much that they would rather be silent than be wrong.

It was Ken Robinson's work in the British education system and government education advisory committee that earned him knighthood. He has been a professor as he says in the film, he has written several books, has his own blog and website.

New Thinking On the Climate Crisis

Taken from a March 2008 TED Talk Al Gore speaks about actions that can be, and which he believes should be, taken from the individual up to the federal and governmental levels in order to slow climate change on a global scale. Al Gore's presentation outlines several reasons for climate change, in addition to explaining that it is in fact a "real" issue and that the majority of the population in the US agrees with him in this statement, he explains steps that can be taken to slow the progression of climate change.

Al Gore has been working to bring the issue of climate change into the public limelight for years. He has served in the US House of Representatives, the US Senate as well as serving as Vice President. Now working as a businessman and environmental activist he has a website dedicated to what he calls the current climate crisis.

Happy Design

This talk is taken from a May 2004 lecture by the designer Stefan Sagmeister on Happiness. It is the first of several lectures that he gives outlining how and why he has found happiness and how he continues to be happy. He has a few pointers that he brings up in all of his lectures; namely doing what you want, do more of what makes you happy and less of what does not make you happy.

Stefan Sagmeister is a world-renown designer who has worked with many big-name artists such as the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and Ok Go. He works as a freelance designer and more information and images of his work can be taken from his website.

SeeMe For TED.com


This SeeMe is relatively simple, the TED organization itself is not very large since there is such a large online support community. For example, when a new set of videos is posted online from either one of the TED or TEDx events, there are a limited number of translators available on-site but someone with a TED.com login and an excellent understanding of a language other than the one that the video is posted in can write captions for the video. In this way TED.com spreads to wider and wider communities.


More About TED.com

The two annual TED conferences are held in Long Beach, California and in Europe. In order to physically attend a TED conference in Long Beach, Palm Springs or the TED Global, a conference membership must be purchased and depending on the level of membership, there are different perks. More information can be found here on the TED.com website about memberships and registration information can be found here.

TEDx events are held locally by corporations and organizations dedicated to spreading TED ideas. They are locally planned and locally executed but with a similar format used by the annual TED conferences. Attendance to a TEDx event does not require a TED conference membership but some fees will still apply, to find an upcoming TEDx event near you click here or to organize a TEDx event click here, the TED.com team is very good resource to speak with when organizing a TED event.