by Lily Stoicheff on Sep 12, 2012
Michael Shermer was the author's gateway to TED.
I met TED at a time in my life when everything felt at once possible and unattainable.
It was my second year of college, and I was jaded. I had spent the year before immersed in my classes, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I had the power to make a mark. But with all the negativity in the news, and too much political spin in my volunteer experiences, I ended up feeling more powerless and ineffectual than ever. Like so many bright-eyed younguns, I wanted to make a change, but didn’t even know where to start—or if it would even matter in the end. I needed help believing in humanity again.
Around the same time, TED kept coming up in my conversations. I started to notice with increasing frequency that when I discovered something new in the world that inspired me, TED was often connected. I needed to know more, and like so many relationships these days, it started online.
It started out innocently enough, with Michael Shermer explaining to me why people believe weird things and fungi fun guy Paul Stamets showing me how mushrooms can save the world.
It soon escalated to furtive midnight and early morning rendezvous. My need for stronger doses of TED increased, and before long Dr. Anthony Atala was showing me how to print organs. I watched as Deb Roy, a father and MIT student, recorded the first three years of his son’s life to study how humans learn language and Adam Ostrow posed the query: what happens to our online social presences after we die?
It was only a matter of time before I was marveling at an independent robotic car for blind drivers by Dennis Hong, a hauntingly beautiful and intricate view of pollination by filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg and the habits of happiness as explicated by jolly Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard. I was deeply affected by a four-minute video by Joe Smith explaining the strategies needed to reduce one’s paper towel consumption to a single sheet, thereby saving millions of pounds of paper waste per year.
The Internet is used for many things (mostly porn, photos of baby animals and Facebook), but within TED it also harbors the oft-forgotten aspiration that it may one day unite every human being on our small planet. The world’s best and brilliant have been gathering there for almost three decades to share their ideas and encouraging them to marinate amongst those of us searching for hope. A few weeks of steady dosage and I was cured of my apathy.
As I see it, the template for most TED talks runs as follows: the speaker noticed this problem or question and decided to do something about it. They started with this small step, and continued to make small, bold steps until they reached their goal, which actually may not even be the original goal but something much greater and with a wider breadth than they could have originally imagined.
I find these stories inspirational because most of the time, I feel like these people are me and that I could do what they do. They did what they saw needed to be done and they ended up changing their lives and, often, the lives of people they had never met. And they present it in a way that makes it seem like the most perfectly logical thing in the world.
Since the first tumultuous and passionate years of our relationship, I’m proud to announce that my liaison with TED has regressed from addiction to partnership. I still look to TED for inspiration and hope, but I am using that knowledge to change my own life in small, bold steps. I garden a little outside my small studio apartment; I volunteer on the weekends; I bike; I read. Most importantly, I try to live my life with an open and optimistic mind about my future, knowing that if I pay close enough attention and harness my innate power as a human being, I too will have an idea worth spreading.