We need to talk about TED

By December 31, 2013 No Comments

We need to talk about TED:

“You see, when inspiration becomes manipulation, inspiration becomes obfuscation. If you are not cynical you should be skeptical. You should be as skeptical of placebo politics as you are placebo medicine…”


“…placebo technoradicalism, toying with risk so as to reaffirm the comfortable.”

This happens – we are whiplashed between futuristic dreams and the fear of adopting change. 

“Instead of our designers prototyping the same ‘change agent for good’ projects over and over again, and then wondering why they don’t get implemented at scale, perhaps we should resolve that design is not some magic answer. Design matters a lot, but for very different reasons. It’s easy to get enthusiastic about design because, like talking about the future, it is more polite than referring to white elephants in the room…design as ‘innovation’ just isn’t a strong enough idea by itself. We need to talk more about design as ‘immunisation,’ actively preventing certain potential ‘innovations’ that we do not want from happening.”

Innovation isn’t a strong enough idea by itself. It’s the context from which it emerges, its intentions and effects that make it so. Design as innovation is also not enough – design to what end? But design as immunisation is a terrible idea – the responsibility of designers should always be inherent, but thinking of design as a prophylactic is harmful. Design is an approach, a way of producing change – there is a new wave of designers who, much like doctors or other professionals, are taking the effects and social impact of their work very seriously. This is important, but placing so much responsibility solely on design is a flawed imperative relying too much on just one party involved in the process of creating something new. 

“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.”

Very true. 

“Keep calm and carry on ‘innovating’ … is that the real message of TED? To me that’s not inspirational, it’s cynical.”

TED has become somewhat sensational and in doing so, at times, vacuous. It has also been very positive, inspiring many into actually making things happen. But Bratton is right, and a dose of skepticism is always good – “inspiring” ourselves into that “spiritual buzz” of a moment, looking past the fact that the buzz in and of itself is not innovation, is not progress… that’s alarming. 

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