TEDActive: Bubble Guns & Global Conversations on Lawns & Haystacks

by on March 5, 2013 at 1:41 pm

As a long time TEDster, I had never been to its offshoot, an event that happens simultaneously every year called TedActive. It’s essentially TED, but less expensive without the bells and whistles.

Since it is held a couple of hours from the main event, the speakers are obviously not on-site, however you do experience them through a satellite feed, which includes views of the audience, the main stage and the impact the speakers have on that audience in real time.
For years, TED has something called the ‘simulcast’ room, which is where you can view the talks in a separate room on a ‘screen’ not far from the main room.

Why some people love hanging out in the ‘simulcast room’ rather than the main room is that it allows them to quietly chat in the back, or type away on their keyboard if they have work to get done.
OR, if you’re an A++ type who is simply too digitally connected to sit still with nothing but an old fashioned notebook among 1,000 of your “closest” friends, simulcast is the way to go.
TEDActive is a bit like that, except that the main room resembles TED’s main simulcast room and TEDActive’s additional simulcast rooms, which are even more casual, feel like a cross between a silent and creative experiment at a progressive university and an adult’s playground.
In some of the rooms, there were tables with paper cut outs and magic markers if you wanted to jot down your ideas in “color” using “scraps”. This year, they also had a ‘banana’ theme and while I still don’t know what was behind it, its oddly amusing to continuously bump into two guys who don’t know each other and yet both of their lives are entrenched in bananas.

 Snakeoil Cocktail mixologist Michael Esposito whipped up some drinks for the crowd late in the eveing, as bodies migrated towards the pool and hot tubs in the rear. 

From bananas and spirited drinks to cut outs and designs, we moved to species and the Internet in a nano-second.
An idea was thrown out there by four respected illumaries in different fields: Diana Reiss, Peter Gabriel, Neil Gershefeld and Vint Cerf. The question was: could the internet also connect us with dolphins, apes, elephants and other highly intelligent species?
In a bold talk, the four of them came together to launch the idea of the interspecies Internet. 

When you’re having a moment where you don’t believe all things are possible, you remind yourself that you’re at TED and they are.
There was a ‘creative’ lab’ where Andy Cavatorta set up an exhibit that combined technology, robotics and music.

In that same space, a few of us were inspired to get creative at a 2 am brainstorm, with nothing better to do than sip martinis, eat blueberries with M&M’s and talk science fiction to the boy next door.

Did I mention that I’m a sucker for fur vests and 3D science fiction glasses? 

There was a l’il creative energy at the final ‘pool party’ as well including hats, squirt guns, wild handbags, pants, shoes and a whole lotta grass for some R&R, sunscreen and bubbly whatever.

Speaking of grass, we also had a little lawn time with TED 2013 Prize Winner Sugata Mitra. Known for his work in education research, Mitra won $1 million TED Prize to build his School in the Cloud. 
He invited the world to embrace child-driven learning by setting up something he refers to as Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs) and asked the TED audience for help designing a learning lab in India, where children can “embark on intellectual adventures.”

While people were expanding their creative “juices” in whatever way they could, creative “things” were in place at the lab for people to play with and take in…

Below is a fabulous woman I chatted with who ‘wore’ her commitment to eco-living and seemed to have a different name each day.

One of the things I loved about TedActive was its combination of youthful and international energy. Below, I’m with the curator of TEDx Bordeaux Emmanuelle Roques.  
With 72 countries on-site, I had ‘curious’ conversations invoking global perspectives with folks from India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, Kenya, South Africa, Australia, England, Holland, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, China, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, Chile, Colombia, Canada, Malta, Lebanon, Palestine, UAE, Turkey, Germany, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, Ireland, Israel, Belgium and Uganda.
And, those are only the ones that immediately popped into my head without diving into my business cards or the TED mobile app.

This global flare brings a different dynamic into the mix and overall, there were a lot less millionaires, no A+ celebrities and probably no billionaires.
If you want to go to TED for the latter, then the Active experience may not be the right ticket, but if you want to go to stretch your brain, get new ideas, be inspired, get your creative juices flowing, get off the grid for five days and have ‘unique’ conversations that make you think differently, then give it a shot.
Personally, there is always someone I know on the main TED stage every year, often more than one, and many more people I have known, worked, played and cried with for years attend the main event. The other thing you’re more likely to get at the main TED event is an overdose of “intellectual high.”
Comedian Julia Sweeney had the audience in stitches as she made references to her peeps, you know, the Nobel Prize Winners, Scientists, Authors & Inventors that were part (so not) of her everyday world from TED.

Accolades and titles aside, I’ve never been one for labels and titles: none of them — celeb labels, CEO labels, soup labels, hair product labels or shoe labels.
Sometimes I may be in a $25 t-shirt from Loehmanns and other times, it may be a great deal from some Italian or French designer I won’t remember the name of a week later I picked up in a West Village boutique. I must admit, being more “designer and accolade savvy” would certainly make the Oscars easier to watch.
While we’re talking about great design, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include a shot of some of Yu Jordy Fu’s fabulous design work.

Later, a random encounter led to an interview with Upstart Business Journal’s Teresa Novellino, a TED virgin, over lunch. See her article here, which takes an entrepreneurship angle. I wouldn’t call myself a groupie, but I am most certainly a fan of what TED represents: spreading great ideas, innovation, inspiration and helping the world become a better place through a collective effort.
I’m a huge advocate of the in the between stuff that happens before and after all the organized formalities that events “do,” to throw people together. When there’s space and time and the ‘tossing’ is cast aside, real magic happens. Incredible dialogues happen. Life changing observations form. Relationships emerge. New initiatives are created.
And, as a result, ‘collective’ conversations away from your ‘collective’ and ‘individual’ conversations in your daily worlds, make you think about the world differently.
In that moment, an idea sizzles, or more importantly, an old way of thinking gets shattered which brings me to an oldie but a goodie, one of my favorite Helen Keller quotes:
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don’t see the one opening before us.” -Helen Keller
I had another observation from hanging out with such a global ‘tribe’ over the course of five days. The early American “drive” seems to be getting replaced by more of a laissez faire attitude that no longer involves self ignition. See my write-up on Rescue America, a book released last year by Chris Salamone, that fixates on this shift.
Full of historical and philosophical references, he creates clear and specific connections between the loss of our founding values and the current challenges facing our nation. What is necessary, he suggests, is a fundamental shift back toward a national embodiment of the three primary leadership qualities that sustain all lasting human institutions: gratitude, personal responsibility, and sacrifice.
What I noticed at TedActive was how many people showed up from other parts of the world embracing all three.   
The notion that the “west” knows how to lead is something Americans do incredibly well – there’s no boundaries since they’ve been taught that hard work and education pays off. In other parts of the world, boundaries are overcome through great sacrifice and taking personal responsibility to change the status quo.
TED speakers and attendees from other parts of the world are great examples of where and how they embrace gratitude, personal responsibility and sacrifice in their daily lives.
Take a look at this year’s Yu Jordy Fu, who is not afraid to push boundaries, incorporating “raw beauty” and “love” into her design, art and architecture. 

OR, how violinist Ji-Hae Park uses her music to reach people’s hearts. “There are no boundaries,” says Ji-Hae Park on the TED2013 stage. While TED may be a lofty place to perform, she also plays at prisons, hospitals and restricted facilities. She talks about her time when she was depressed and how changing your perspective through music transformed how she viewed music but life itself.

OR, how Lakshmy Pratury with tears in her eyes, talked about the importance of keeping the Delhi rape alive, also reminding us that theres a new kind of revolution happening in India where the youth is breaking down the concept of a leader.

OR, how Hyeonseo Lee made sacrifices to get her family out of North Korea. As a woman who saw her first public execution at age 7, she endured a famine in the 1990s, one which killing an estimated million people. At the time, she didn’t have the frame of reference to understand the government repression going on around her but was later caught by the Chinese police.

Someone had accused her of being North Korean, and she was subjected to brutal tests of her ability to speak Chinese. Every year, countless North Koreans are caught in China, sent back, tortured, imprisoned, publicly executed, and now she is in Long Beach talking to thousands of people who can make a difference with their voices, blogs, connections, social media call outs and their wallets.
Then, there’s the Ugandan artist & teacher Ruganzu Bruno Tusingwire, who I hung out with at TedActive. He became the first City 2.0 Award recipient of 2012 in Doha Qatar, at the TEDxSummit, which I attended last April. 
Tusingwire’s big idea is to use waste materials to create a movable amusement park for children living in slums of Kampala.

He is using his award to grow his community, grow an woman eco-artist loan program already supporting 15 women to develop their business ideas, and expand the amusement park from a single plane-shaped sculpture made of recycled plastic bottles into a permanent park. I loved his energy, not to mention his visible sense of sacrifice, personal responsibility and gratitude. 
Another interesting international ‘observation’ was what was absent and what was wasn’t. A latin band played on one of the nights and I was astonished that my partners on the dance floor were not Brazilian, Argentinian, Chilean or Peruvian, but German, French, Middle Eastern and Italian.
In fact, the Best Dancer Award for TEDActive from a ‘partner perspective’ goes to Mohammed Abu Zeinab from Qatar who is apparently half Palestinian and half Lebanese. Go figure…and he rocked it to Latin music of all things.
P.S. he even wore funky clothing the rest of the week.

TED reminds you that nothing in your world is really aligned the way you ‘think it should be.’
It made me wonder what Wallace Stegner, Oscar Wilde, Tolstoy and Doris Lessing would make of TED talks. Would they even be able to make sense of our over digitized world?
Someone who can make sense of it is AutoDesk’s Jonathan Knowles who showed up for half of TedActive, wearing fabulous, fun and bright colored socks.
Having just migrated from PC to Mac, I was somewhat sad and somewhat ecstatic that our conversation would end up being largely tech support in nature. Two hours later, I was fully equipped with Mac tricks and tips, though I’m still far less efficient on a Mac than I was on my old trusty Lenovo. That said, thanks to Jonathan for his patience, humor and persistence.  
I couldn’t help but get a chuckle over one of his tweets shortly after he arrive in Palm Springs.
Lunch at #TED2013 versus Lunch at #TEDActive #maybeExaggerateAbit: pic.twitter.com/IV3PoVIG8J 

Although excessive, I must admit, we did in fact have a lawn party with picnic baskets, sandwiches and cookies in 80 degree sunshine, the last time we’ll likely do such a thing given that TED’s new location is in Canadian Vancouver and Whistler next year.

Occasionally, you hang out with people you know and work with: below with Andrew Carton of HAPILABS.

On the last night of TED, I headed back to Long Beach to have drinks and dinner with old friends and musician Amanda Palmer who performed this year, showed up and shared a few tunes with our intimate group, something which has become tradition for as long as I can remember. (the dinner part, not the Amanda part)

And at the end of the evening, there’s always room for a little girl bonding or whatever the hell we do that makes us feel feminine and human and connected and just fabulous being together.

International flavors came out once again as Reggie Watts killed it on stage at the end of Ted Active with new sounds I hadn’t heard before from him. I remain a fan!
Suddenly I found myself lifted up into the crowd and then over it, my body being passed from hands to hands….a remarkable experience especially when you realize that each set of hands are likely from a different continent.
How cool I thought as I looked beyond the crowds below me as people bumped together, swaying to the hypnotic music that extended beyond us into the lofty palms that give Palm Springs its name.
Behind me were the non-swayers sipping drinks and networking in their respective courtyard corners. In the foreground, I spotted Jill Sobule not far from the stage, and then there was Reggie performing in all his ecletic glory, surrounded by a fusion of pinks and hazy midnight hues and I wondered for a moment if it was all just a dream.

Also see some of my individual blog posts from TED 2013 this year, including:

Four Ted Speakers Who Appeal To Our Sensory Selves
TED2013 Prize Winner Sugata Mitra’s Wish for Education: “School in the Cloud”
Ugandan Ruganzu Bruno Tusingwire Empowers & Engages Children Through PLAY
Brazilian Photographer Sebastiao Salgado Shares His Story at TED2013 
Rad Hip Gardener Ron Finley Wants to Greenify Inner City Neighborhoods 
Saskia Sassen on the Value of Imperfect & Incomplete Cities at TED2013 
Inspiration at TED2013: From Music & Healing to Endangered Species & Mobile Electric Vehicles
Dan Pallotta: Think About a Charity’s Deams, Not Their Overhead 

Photo Credits: All visibly on-stage photos of speakers from the Ted Blog, the shot of Renee and Emmanuelle taken by Teresa Novellino, Yu Jordy Fu with her artwork shot from her site, all other shots by Renee Blodgett.