At TEDxWarwick last weekend, I found myself – as I had hoped – hearing about a huge range of issues and ideas linked to a broad spectrum of subject matter. Science, art, technology, economic forecasting, music, agriculture, cities, communication, community development, conflict and peace – all under the banner of Building Bridges. I spent the day listening to speakers, seeing amazing images and film clips, and enjoying incredible music in a darkened room alongside hundreds of other people: tweeting vigorously, fighting the wi-fi, having stimulating conversations – and thinking, thinking, thinking.
Almost all of the talks were on subjects that don’t really cross my consciousness on a day-to-day basis – though I realise now that perhaps some of them should a little more! Having given up physics and chemistry all too long ago at the age of 14, the science ones in particular had the potential to bamboozle me. Some talks were about concepts that are so complex and specialised, that until I heard about them at TEDx, they were beyond my imagination.
It all had the potential to be overwhelming.
And yet, it wasn’t – a testament to the programming by the TEDxWarwick team, some good coffee, and most of all to the speakers.
Of course some presentations held my attention more than others.
Looking back on the day, I realise that the talks that have stayed with me the most are not necessarily those in areas I feel more at home with, nor even those given by the most charismatic speakers. Passion about your subject of course shines through, and goes a long way to bringing your audience with you – but charisma and passion are not enough.
The talks that are still flitting through my brain the most – and the ones which have made me want to find out more – are those where the speaker was able to find a simple ‘language’ to communicate their ideas. Where they could rise above the jargon of their field, and tell their story in meaningful ways. Where they could help us to understand experiences that are so many miles away from our own lives – literally and figuratively – by bringing their stories to life. And of course as our own Nikky Smedley highlighted in her TEDxWarwick talk on Saturday, it’s not always a verbal language that we need to communicate anyway.
Thus I found myself totally engaged in ideas around genetically evolved technology, which will enable the growing of semi-conductors and electronic components, because Luke Bawazer helped me see their potential and their value. Some simple graphics, summarising very very complex information, clarified how use of inadequate data can affect decisions made by world economic decision makers – with catastrophic impact: I shall be looking at the data I deal with in a different light now, and questioning those economic forecasts in a more informed way – lobbying my MP to support the use of ‘nowcasting’ for more informed decision-making. Meanwhile, I am pondering what we need to do locally, nationally and internationally in response to the urgent need to think about food and farming differently – for the sustainability of our children’s futures and their children’s futures – because Kate Cooper gave a massive world issue a local and personal perspective. And I now have a powerful visual sense of how vertical farms can bring greater sustainability through lower land use. Meanwhile, having heard one girl’s ‘only just in time’ story, I want to find out how long it takes for the money I give to charity to get to the frontline – I want it there in days, not months – so I’ll be looking carefully at who I trust to do that in future.
And if there is a single moment that stands out for me (other than the audience’s spontaneous applause at finding a Teletubby on stage, talking to them in Laa Laa speak), it was Fabian Oefner’s simple demonstration of how he captures chemical reactions and magnetic forces in his amazing photographs: a real, very audible ‘ooooohh’ moment.
Yes, it was beautiful.
But I also found myself engaged in the science behind it – and wishing I had not given up physics and chemistry all those years ago.
How different things might have been if my teachers back then had communicated through art in this way…
See the @culturechangers twitter feed to see what was grabbing our attention throughout the day, and check out the #TEDxWarwick feed to see what others were saying too