Benjamin Bratton, Associate Professor of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, has a huge problem with TED, and he isn't afraid to tell them so right to their face.
At a recent TEDx event in San Diego, Bratton delivered a talk called "What's Wrong with TED Talks?"
"The first reason is over-simplification," Bratton says at the start of his speech. "To be clear, I have nothing against the idea of interesting people who do smart things explaining their work doing in a way that everyone can understand, but TED goes way beyond that."
Bratton then launches into a terrifying anecdote to explain what he means:
I was recently at a presentation that a friend, an astrophysicist, was making to a potential donor, and I thought this talk was lucid, and engaging, and I'm a professor of visual arts here at UC San Diego so at the end of the day, I know really nothing about astrophysics. The donor, however, said, 'you know what, I'm gonna pass. I'm just not inspired. You should be more like Malcolm Gladwell.'
Bratton was livid: "Can you imagine? A scientist who creates real knowledge should be more like a journalist who recycles fake insights. This is not popularization. This is taking something with substance and value and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing. This is not how we'll confront one of our most frightening problems — this is one of our most frightening problems."
You should absolutely watch the entire talk, but if you're short on time, just read the full text of Bratton's "take away":
As for one simple take away ... I don't have one simple take away, one magic idea. That's kind of the point. [...]
'Innovation' defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.
One TED speaker said recently, ;If you remove this boundary ... the only boundary left is our imagination.' Wrong.
If we really want transformation, we have to slog through the hard stuff (history, economics, philosophy, art, ambiguities, contradictions). Bracketing it off to the side to focus just on technology, or just on innovation, actually prevents transformation.
Instead of dumbing-down the future, we need to raise the level of general understanding to the level of complexity of the systems in which we are embedded and which are embedded in us. This is not about 'personal stories of inspiration,' it's about the difficult and uncertain work of demystification and reconceptualisation: the hard stuff that really changes how we think. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins.