Yesterday I was lucky enough to go along to TEDxManchester – an independently organised TED event where Manchester’s great and good joined together in BBC Philhamonic studio hall to hear and share some new ideas worth spreading.
You can’t argue with the concept, and this being Europe’s largest TEDx event, it brought with it some good speakers and interesting discussions. But as I walked into the hall for the third session after 4 hours of talks to listen to Hugh Garry’s presentation on mobile filming and Paul Coulton’s presentation on online gaming (both of which were enjoyable), two things suddenly struck me, keeping me awake until the small hours last night as I mulled them over in my jumbled and exhausted head. I’m going to try and deal with the first of these thoughts in this blog post. It goes like this.
Bar Phil Griffin’s brilliant talk on urban spaces and architecture, virtually every live presentation at TEDxManchester had been in some way about technology and social media. While in part this is likely to be down to the fact this is the main interest area of most of the organisers and attendees (demonstrated by the fact that the event was primarily promoted through twitter), it does raise a question about whether the digital space has become the primary home for ideas and innovation.
After all, throughout the world entrepreneurs, academics, creatives and social commentators are flocking to digital and social channels as their main means of doing what they do. And as a result, we think that this is where the innovators live. The assumption is that if someone has something worth saying or doing, they’re probably saying or doing it online.
And more than that, the unbridled development of the internet has had and is having a profound effect on almost every area of our society, from how we manage our lives, businesses and relationships to what we expect from governments, corporations and media giants. You would struggle to talk about creativity, innovation and social change without mentioning the digital world, which is probably why the digital world featured so prominently in yesterday’s programme.
But it would be really, really dangerous for innovators to look only to the digital space for inspiration. The very basis of TED is that good ideas – ideas that inspire you and change the way you think – can and do come from anywhere. History, philosophy, politics, international development, economics, literature, nature, quantum physics, health research, psychology…it’s a massive world out there and it’s filled with people taking routes to try and understand it that are not purely digital. Or (shockingly!) are not in any way digital!
Think about the people in your life and world that inspire you and make you think about things differently. Or even think of those people in the public eye who challenge the way you think about the world. For me, it’s been statesmen like Al Gore, writers like Liz Gilbert, explorers like David Attenborough, not to mention all the musicians, artists, campaigners and journalists out there. And while some of them might have a blog, their ideas are usually about people, nature and what it means to be human, and have absolutely nothing to do with technology.
‘So what?’, you might say. Let’s face it – a lot of the innovation happening out there is happening online. Does it matter if this is the main place we go to when seeking new ideas? Well…yes! If people in the digital space are only hearing ideas from the digital space, then the sphere of inspiration narrows and you end up with the same ideas churning and repeating, putting them in danger of becoming stale. Without external stimulus, progress and innovation grinds to a halt pretty quickly.
The beauty of TED is that it reaches into virtually every field and craft on the hunt for ideas, oiling the wheels of global innovation by giving you access to the minds and thoughts of people you would never ever come across otherwise. TEDx has a massive opportunity to take this philosophy and bring it into our local towns and cities, and while yesterday was great, I really hope that a) it happens again next year and b) it throws the speaker net wider to bring us ideas and perspectives from fields we wouldn’t have thought to look in ourselves.