I'm not sure I really know, but ...

TED is the Urban Outfitters of the idea world

Urban Outfitters, in case you didn't know, is a mostly hip place that sells kinda-sorta retro chic stuff that people who like that sort of thing like. Possibly that's what Nathan Jurgenson had in mind when he described the darling TED in that way: the kind of thing that people who like that kind of thing like.

I found the quote at The American Conservative, where Alan Jacobs described Urban Outfitters as a

gussied-up faux-authentic simulacrum of the real thing.

I don't actually think of TED in those terms myself. But I do think that something has gone awry with the TED brand, and that something is to do with dilution and even fakery.

A couple of things have been happening to me and TED over the past few months. The first is that I often have more than 10 unplayed talks among my podcasts. That never used to happen back in 2006, when the TED bug bit me. I devoured each talk as soon as I could. Now, they're near the bottom of my podcast priorities. When I do watch one, I'm sure I skip to the end more often than I used to.

This could of course be just me, habituating to the goodness, no matter how good it is. But it could also be a decline in the average quality of things called TED talks, as the brand expands endlessly to the vast number of TedX events. I'm sure some kind of selection goes on to decide which TedX talks get shared on the home site, but maybe it isn't enough.

So it wasn't all that much of [a surprise to discover]1 that a TedX session in Charlotte gave a standing ovation to a talk on Vortex Mathematics that turned out to be entirely bogus. I think. Is Marko Rodin, the person who thought up and is promoting vortex mathematics, deluded or trying to make a point? I have no idea. Maybe the whole thing will turn out to be another _Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity_. My spider-sense suggests not.

The time is ripe for someone to start curating the never-ending stream of Ted talks, even at the risk of creating an "online filter bubble" that - yup, you're right - a Ted talk warned me against.


  1. Link at http://jdbentley.com broken, and no search available! 

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