The new Prospect is coming out tomorrow, meaning its a quiet time for the magazine’s production cycle. I’ve taken the chance to disappear up to Oxford to spend a few days at TED Global, the international version of California’s much hyped, mildly cultish and certainly intriguing TED conference. (We ran a piece by Jaron Lanier about it a few months back.) And, in the spirit of hyperbole which i’m learning seems common here, I’m coming to the conclusion that it might well be the world’s oddest conference….
The line-up for the initial sessions of Day 1 included speeches from: an artist who made very small things, like a statue of liberty that can fit inside the eye of a needle; a stunt man who wanted to jump from space; a musician who travelled the world recording people singing “Stand by Me”; a man who claimed he was an “aphorisit” who also doubled as a not terribly talented juggler; an avant-garde euphonium player; twitter’s Stephen Fry, and Gordon Brown.
Each spoke for quarter of an hour or so. There are no questions. Texting, tweeting, and any other form of distraction is banned. And only the vaguest attempt was made to suggest that the ideas were linked – the themes were “what we know” and “seeing is believing”, wrapped up in a conference theme which is something like “the site of things unseen”. As I say, baffling.
I sat new to Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the RSA, during an especially odd presentation from a woman who explained the existence of a super black hole at the centre of the universe. (At one point she claimed, I think, that all you had to do to prove this was find a way in which the world could be shrunk to the size of a sugar cube, complete with a screen shot of the earth zipping down to become a small white box.) Taylor leaned over and said he found the event most reminiscent of a 50s style variety performance for intellectuals – a sort of “Britain’s got talent” for the wonking class, in which a series of unusual, potentially thought provoking brain acts compete for your attention. All that was lacking was the equivalent of a brainiac Simon Cowell, from time to time, to bring the proceedings down.
How to compare the…