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Benjamin Bratton Uses TEDx Talk To Slam TED Talks (VIDEO)

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You might disagree with his ideas, but you have to give him credit for his honesty.

Benjamin Bratton, an associate professor of visual arts at the University of California, San Diego, gave a bit of an unconventional TEDx talk late last year. Instead of using his allotted time for the standard TED-styled speech about the promise of a groundbreaking technology or a hip new nonprofit, Bratton addressed a different problem entirely: TED talks themselves.

Bratton, whose speech was posted to YouTube Dec. 30, makes no effort to disguise the topic, clearly stating just over a minute into his talk, "My TED talk is not about my work, my new book, the usual spiel. It's about TED. What it is, and why it doesn't work."

What follows is an earnest and honest assessment of what Bratton deems a serious problem. He intersperses the analysis with a few hefty zingers, at one point equating TED talks not with "technology, entertainment, design," but instead with "middlebrow megachurch infotainment."

On simplifying difficult subjects, the professor acknowledges the benefit of speaking and communicating complex ideas clearly, then warns he thinks TED talks can push it too far, often into the realm of oversimplification.

"What does the TED audience hope to get from this? A vicarious insight? A fleeting moment of wonder? A sense that maybe it's all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz?" he goes on to elaborate. "I'm sorry, but that's not up to the challenge of the problems we are ostensibly here to face. [These problems] are complex and difficult -- not given to tidy, just-so solutions."

If you're looking for a quick, cookie-cutter take-away from this anti-TED TED talk, there isn't one; that's one of Bratton's core points. Though, he does offer this in closing:

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.

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.

In a response to the TEDx San Diego event, which is not affiliated with the larger TED organization, TED curator Chris Anderson has penned a rebuttal in The Guardian.

The video (above) is worth watching in its entirety, but if you prefer to read the speech, the transcript is available on Bratton's website.

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