Inside TED: the smartest bubble in the world →

A fascinating article on the hip, quasi-intellectual—and, evidently, increasingly commercial—TED gatherings, from The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky:

TED is not flat, from a hierarchical standpoint. Though it strives to be flat — it wants to be a place where kings and peasants can exchange their equal currency of ideas — there are generational, economic, and societal incompatibilities amongst attendees that could be observed in subtle and not-so subtle ways. The longer you’re part of TED, the more pronounced those incompatibilities become. The most striking part of the disconnect was between that upper strata of speakers, former speakers, celebrities, and CEOs, and a surprisingly basic TED attendee who operated with a kind of business-like agenda. ‘What can I leave here with besides ideas,’ they seemed to be saying, hungrily scanning every room for their next hit. The gap between these A-list members and the schmooze- and party-hungry B-listers grew more obvious with each awkward encounter I witnessed, a business card being foisted into someone’s hand, a spongy stare as the big dog attendee tried to work their way out of an uncomfortable conversation.

Topolsky observes that the crowd is “white in that specific way you can feel white people striving for diversity,” and is surprised that

there were a number of talks that were either uninteresting, poorly executed, or just plain boring. Not surprisingly, TED doesn’t put every talk from these sessions online. Not everything everyone has to say on stage is edifying or even interesting.

I suspect that describes most conferences—there’s very little that I felt that I got out of this year’s Macworld, although to be fair I wasn’t in the best frame of mind this year—but TED trades on the notion that it’s markedly different in a way that it isn’t. Or perhaps the ways that it’s different aren’t entirely flattering. Topolsky refers to the perception that TED can get a little cult-like in its temporary but enforced cultural norms, but the one thing he seems to have left out of his article might be the most telling as to why TED is the way it is: the standard membership cost for the four-day conference is $7,500.

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