TED 2009: Curtainraiser

February 3, 2009

Helen Walters blogs on businessweek.com about the TED conference that begins Feb. 4 in Long Beach, Calif.:  

Posted by Helen Walters on February 03

I'm in California, en route to Long Beach for this year's TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) conference. It’ll be interesting to contrast the atmosphere of the five-day affair (which officially starts tomorrow, though there are numerous pre-show shindigs to attend today) with reports from Davos, which by all accounts was a somewhat somber affair. (See BusinessWeek editor-in-chief, Steve Adler’s assessment of the goings-on in Switzerland here.)

Certainly, the state of the global economy looks set to be front and center. But I imagine that rather than focusing on what’s gone wrong, with oh me miserum analysis of how we got there, the atmosphere at TED will be more optimistic, with some radical – I’ll bet, often impractical – suggestions for solutions. TED is precisely the place for imagining a brand new paradigm of reality.

In fact, TED often drives people nuts for its “let’s fix the world” attitude, and it's true that the slightly crazed excitement that transpires at the event doesn't always translate to action in the real world, but given how much the call for change has been on everyone’s lips in the past year or so, it’ll definitely be interesting to see how its attendees are thinking -- and what they're planning. In fact, one of the most exciting things about the event isn’t just the high profile speaker list, but the 1000 or so people milling about, all of whom are just dying to talk about their own world changing idea.

This year also sees the introduction of the TED fellows, 40 young innovators who’ve “shown unusual accomplishment and exceptional courage,” according to the blurb. Among them: Bola Olabisi, founder and CEO of the Global Women Inventors & Innovators Network, and mobile trends analyst, Katrin Verclas. Each one will get the chance to present to the TED audience in three sessions known as TED University: brief talks intended to spark attention, interest (and support) from the well-heeled attendees who’ve forked out some $6,000 to be in Long Beach.

Then of course there’s the main action, where speakers get 18 minutes to have their say. Bill Gates’ll be speaking, right after the publication of his newly minted annual letter assessing what’s gone right – and wrong – in the world of his foundation. Tim Berners-Lee, credited as the inventor of the Web, will be there to talk of goings-on in web standards and development. Electric car pioneer Shai Agassi will give an update, while statistician Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com will share thoughts on statistics, right after his impressive calling of the 2008 U.S. election. And of course there will be the many scientists, geeks, artists, inventors and big thinkers adding the color and provocative thinking always associated with this yearly event.

This year is TED’s 25th anniversary, its eighth year under the command of its curator, former Business 2.0 publisher, Chris Anderson. The official theme is “The Great Unveiling” and while the rules around media coverage are incredibly strict, I plan to set up shop in the back row of the auditorium at the Performing Arts Center in Long Beach (back two rows only for bloggers and twitterers -- follow me @HelenWalters). I'm also armed with a trusty Flip camera, so I'll video when I can and give as much of an eye on what’s going on as I can. For now, it’s time for me to head to Long Beach. See you in a bit!



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