Professor Benjamin Bratton skewers TED as harmful infotainment (video)

When it was announced that the famous TED conference is coming to Vancouver in March 2014, there was much local applause. (Even though tickets cost US$7,500.)

Benjamin Bratton, an associate professor of visual arts at the University of California at San Diego, doesn't think the TED model is worth celebrating. He calls TED "middlebrow megachurch infotainment".

In this talk, Bratton says:

The key rhetorical device for TED talks is a combination of epiphany and personal testimony (an “epiphimony” if you like) through which the speaker shares a personal journey of insight and realization, its triumphs and tribulations.

What is it that the TED audience hopes to get from this? A vicarious insight, a fleeting moment of wonder, an inkling that maybe it’s all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz?

He goes on to conclude:

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 de-mystification and re-conceptualization: the hard stuff that really changes how we think. More Copernicus, less Tony Robbins.

At a societal level, the bottom line is if we invest things that make us feel good but which don’t work, and don’t invest things that don’t make us feel good but which may solve problems, then our fate is that it will just get harder to feel good about not solving problems.

Funnily enough, Bratton gave his talk at TEDxSanDiego. (TEDx conferences are local events organized by TED fans.)

One highlight is when he likens Malcolm Gladwell to a "journalist who recycles fake insights".

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