Bursting With Ideas @TEDxObserver
This past weekend I had a fantastic Saturday spent at the TEDxObserver conference in Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London. It definitely lived up to its tagline – “where inspiration meets action”. And it also lived up to the wonderfully random nature of TED talks. If I wanted to predict what would come on stage I wouldn’t have been able to.
The bewildering range of topics went from a blind man who can ‘see’ through sound, to “making food, not war in Lebanon”. From why some people are more optimistic than others to the personal story of a surgeon who helps to separate twins and save their lives. There were beautiful musical and dance performances from children who come from the poverty-stricken backgrounds in Columbia and the South African township of Soweto. And we heard how this was possible from the people who set up the creative learning institutions which gave these children such opportunities.
In essence, the day was a whirlwind of interesting (and sometimes remarkable) speakers/performers from all over the world. Of course not everyone was brilliant, and some speakers weren’t up to the TED standard, but all in all, the day was worth it and I wanted to share some of my personal highlights…
Blind Vision – Seeing Through Sound
Daniel Kish is completely blind. He doesn’t even have eyes. Only a year after being born he was diagnosed with retinoblastoma –a type of cancer which destroys the retinas. At age 14, his eyes were surgically removed and replaced with prosthetic ones in order to save his life.
Daniel , now 46 years old, walked up on stage by himself with a cane. This wasn’t a big deal for him – he can ride a bike at a moderate speed in unfamiliar environments. He sees through sound. This happens through the technique of ‘echolocation’ – sending sound waves from his tongue in order to bounce off physical objects and so allowing him to gauge his whereabouts. Similar to sonar, he explained that clicking his tongue allows him to ask two questions:
1. Where are you?
2. What are you?
Echholocation is how bats and beluga whales can ‘see’ and humans can also train themselves to understand sound waves in such a way. In decent conditions Daniel can hear a building 1,000 feet away, a tree from 30 feet and a person from 6 feet away. He can tell the difference between a passenger car, pickup truck and SUV. Daniel is dedicated to teaching a new generation of blind children how to orient themselves through the simple techniques of clicking and using a cane.
He showed us a video of Luke, a young blind boy who was about 7 years old. Luke was shooting hoops and the basketball was getting into the basket each time despite his lack of vision. It was amazing. Daniel had taught Luke to see through using sound. Prior to this Luke wasn’t even confident to move around without holding someone’s hand.
Most local authorities don’t give children canes until they are 8 years old, and they don’t teach kids how to use the cane once they provide them with it. Even though many blind children click intuitively, the behaviour is often discouraged by mainstream blind organisations and carers.
Daniel’s vision and passion in giving blind kids ownership over their environment, a sense of safety and a step towards freedom was immensely inspiring.
For those of us who are still blessed with the sense of sight, he reflected on a point relevant to us all:
“We are all blind in one way or another. We are all in need of some direction and of more freedom”
6 year olds should learn coding
This talk was the most surprising for me personally. I’m not the most digitally-literate person…To be honest, I’ve often felt that venturing behind the computer interface would be out of my depth. It would be too confusing and I’m not one of those techno-geeks that knows how to navigate the landscape. But this talk by Alasdair Blackwell has changed my perspective.
Alasdair explained how we are sending our children out into a world where they are surrounded by technology but are not equipped with the tools to be able to instruct it. We are all plugged into the matrix, but instead of telling the machines what to do we are just engulfed by them. How many of us actually know how to code?
We feel coding is out of our depth because we have this stereotypical media-driven image of computer geeks sitting in their underwear in their mother’s basement coding away like mad (perhaps high on Red Bull). Think The Big Bang Theory without Penny… People who are computer-literate have been stereotyped by TV programmes/movies and are either complete geeks or slightly glamorised – think the Matrix or The Social Network.
But coding is not that complicated – it’s about planning and breaking down problems into their constituent parts. The internet is an open space – use google to learn how to Code. There are tons of forums where people ask other coders how to do things – we should learn from each other. Alasdair actually runs DECODED, a course that teaches people how to code in a day – http://decoded.co/what-is-decoded/
He argues that coding should be an essential part of our school curriculum. Not just at GCSE/A Level – where ICT is emphatically not teaching the computer science needed. But just as kids learn literacy and numeracy at the age of 6, they should learn to code. It’s just as essential in today’s day and age. Homework can be published on a school intranet in html instead of writing it – there are so many ways education can harness this learning.
A curriculum could be broken down into
Html – for content
CSS – for design
Java – for behaviour
He concluded that kids need to be empowered to be digitally literate, and by the end of his talk I completely agreed.
Plan B’s reflection on CHAVs
It was obvious that Plan B was an artist I should know about. It was also obvious I shouldn’t make it obvious that I had no clue who he was because I was obviously in the minority… Anyway it made me feel better when I came home, youtubed him and saw the song “She Said”…oh he’s that guy!
So “that guy”/ Plan B spoke to us. It was actually very interesting. The most memorable point for me was this:
We all know how the word CHAV is used. Its derogatory, it mocks people and many of us are happy to throw the word around – as is the media. The stereotypical image of a young guy with a burberry cap on a council estate with bad language and from a particular sort of background is conjured up. But why is it acceptable for us to be so prejudiced against people from such backgrounds? Why is it okay to demonise young people, especially from particular socio-economic backgrounds? It would never be accepted to mock people on the basis of their race/gender.
Chav etymologically may actually come from the Romani word “chavi”, meaning “child” (or “chavo” meaning “boy”, or “chavvy” meaning “youth”).
But it’s no longer any child/boy/young person – its “that sort” of young people.
Plan B’s interpretation of how we use chav is:
Council Housed And Violent
Why is it okay for us to use the word? It’s something to think about.
1500 audience members joining in with the choir
This was one of the most enjoyable parts of the day – and hilarious I might add.
In order to keep up the Welsh tradition of all-male choirs, Tim Rhys-Evans set up Only Men Aloud, and then Only Boys Aloud – open to all boys between 14-19 without audition. There are 9 seperate Only Boys Aloud choirs in South Wales towns and they initially started off in rugby clubs. This located the choirs in the centre of communities and also gave it the “don’t-worry-you-can-still-be-macho-and-sing Factor”.
In order to show how successful his initiative has been, over a hundred boys had come in from Cardiff to perform for us. Standing in their jeans and white shirts with rolled up sleeves you know all the mothers in the audience had their hearts melting. After they showed off their voices, the audience was told to join in.
Tim was a fantastic instructor – splitting up the hall into the ground floor, the first circle and stalls, and the second circle in order to sing different parts of the backing track to “Dont Stop Believing”. Think how Glee did it. Then think of 1500 random people who generally can’t sing attempting to do it.
Various versions of “ta ta ta ta ta ta ta ta…” and “da da dum, da da dum…” were enthusiastically sung. If you don’t know the specific tune of this song the explanation may not make much sense but trust me it was hilarious. In the words of Tim himself to his choir: “boys, we have left the land of song!”
Once the audience generally had an idea of what tune it was singing the music blared and the choir joined in with the actual lyrics. This was the day’s finale and it was a fantastic way to end.
One thing that stood out for me was that the audience was extremely friendly. At large events you can feel the atmosphere, the mood of the people and it determines how comfortable you feel. Despite the large crowd, it felt intimate. Audience-participation was encouraged, with spontaneous bursts of applause and speakers involving us with their presentations. When we got our name tags, we also had to fill in a line which said “speak to me about …. and ….” – this was great because it invited conversation with the strangers sitting next to you about topics you feel comfortable with.
TED started out 23 years ago as a high-powered summit in California dedicated to “technology, entertainment and design”. But in recent years it’s uploaded talks have become an internet phenomenon, with nearly half a million people a day watching a TED talk (http://www.ted.com/) somewhere in the world.
TED is about sharing ideas, starting conversations and learning from other people. The people around us are all full of potential – if we just appreciate their knowledge and are humble enough to learn from them, the potential to broaden each other’s horizons is limitless.