TED@Palm Springs: Learning at the Speed of Light

I have always been amazed by the amount of learning which quickly occurs in a one-day Infopeople workshop, a four-session Infopeople online course, or even a one-hour Infopeople webinar. And I’ve been equally fascinated by how much can be absorbed through an 18-minute TED (Technology, Education, Design) talk. So to watch nearly 50 of those offerings and countless other brief (three-minute) sessions as they were being delivered in a four-day period during the 2009 TED Conference simulcast event in Palm Springs last week has left me nearly numb. Overwhelmed. Exhilarated. Exhausted. Inspired. And looking forward to discussing and digesting them with friends and colleagues in the weeks and months to come.
TED organizers, as mentioned in an earlier Infoblog posting, have already begun adding the 2009 talks to those previously available at TED.com. The talk by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates was online even before any of us had left the Long Beach and Palm Springs sites, and Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert’s well received and moving “A Different Way to Think About Creative Genius,” in which she explores the theme of how a writer deals with unexpected and tremendous success and the realization that one’s greatest work might already have been produced, is also now available for those who missed the original—or simply want to see it again. And again. And again.
Other bloggers have done a great job of temporarily and copiously filling the TED gap by posting summaries and highlights of many of the sessions—Global Voices Co-Founder Ethan Zuckerman’s is one of the most detailed I’ve found; just when you think you’ve read everything on a page, you see that there are links to additional pages which cover earlier TED 2009 sessions. And one “TEDster” from the United Kingdom, in addition to providing glimpses of what she had attended, went so far as to write a complimentary piece about those of us who were working at the book-selling operation in Palm Springs—her point being that even the TED bookstores (“part literary haven, part neighbourhood hang-out” and organized by Neal Sofman of Bookshop West Portal in San Francisco) were a vital part of this community of learner-thinker-activists who gather to be inspired and then return to countries all over the world ready to be part of the process of creating positive change.
A community of learners at this level is an astonishing thing to see. It’s a gathering where neurological anthropologist Oliver Sacks starts off a day with a description of a sight-impaired woman’s visual hallucinations, and is later followed by Elizabeth Gilbert on the theme of the creative muse. Then architect Daniel Libeskind provides a whirlwind tour of his work, and later that afternoon polymorphic playwright Sarah Jones does variations on a presentation currently available for viewing on YouTube. That evening, astronomer Jill Tarter leads us through the stars and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, oceanographer Sylvia Earle takes us in the opposite direction to explore the depths beneath the surface of our oceans, and Venezuelan conductor Jose Antonio Abreu shows us how young musicians are made. We explore the world of molecular biology and innovations in the study of viruses; learn about high-rise (vertical) farming in cities rather than in more traditional agricultural settings; and spend part of another evening with Bonk author Mary Roach telling us “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasms” (and may not have wanted to know, when you get right down to it).
And before you know it, four very intense days in a community of learners are over. But, like any great learning experience, the pay-off is just beginning.