TED: Ideas Worth Spreading

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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. Here are several example videos that illustrate civic intelligence:

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.

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.

Schools Kill Creativity

This presentation from Sir Ken Robinson in February of 2006 simply states that schools kill creativity in children.