Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Hello, My Name Is TED

I routinely omit recommendations for great TED talks here because I entirely forget that most people in my circles don’t already watch them. A fact I forget because it seems like exactly the sort of thing most of them ought to. My TED consumption increased dramatically once I could stream internet video to my TV, and now a few mornings a week I can be spotted ironing a shirt while watching one (albeit that unless you are Anna, spotting me would require being a stalker, a burgler or an over-enthusiastic MI5 operative).

TED talks are short (between 5 and 20 minutes) lectures on a wide variety of subjects, pertaining in general to its acronym of Technology, Entertainment and Design, and moreso to its tagline “Ideas worth spreading”. The speakers are generally fantastic: leaders in their field but also engaging presenters. And the topics are regularly inspirational. More so, as I recently proclaimed, than starting the day with yoga.

The talk that prompted such a statement (which met with mixed reactions depending primarily on whether people had recently watched a TED talk!) was one given Deb Roy, an MIT researcher who coated his house in cameras and microphones before the birth of his son, and then ran analysis on the first two year’s of footage to study the acquisition of speech. His ideas on feedback loops in taught language, as well as the connection between spatial movement and speech, were fascinating. But the inspirational part was what he describes as the audio equivalent of one those time-lapse videos in which you see a flower bloom; he played a 40-second recording of each time his son attempted to ask for water, as over time “gaga” evolved into “water”, or as he puts it, witnessing the birth of a word.

Meanwhile, as a species we are more inclined to waste our hours on the undeniably compelling train-wreck of Rebecca Black’s Friday, which was best described by Nick as post-modern trolling. Could we not, instead, listen to Sarah Kay’s rather more inspirational spoken word musings on the wisdom she hopes to impart to a daughter?


  1. Sadly, I’m on a download limited internet connection out here so video streaming is a luxury I can’t subscribe to! But I’ve always been impressed by the TED stuff I’ve seen, and I’ve always been simultaneously inspired by the content and depressed that I don’t yet do something that gives me the freedom to indulge my thoughts.

    This is one of my favourites, by a true legend of physics:

  2. OMG, I’d rather listen to Friday every day for the rest of my life than Sarah Kay’s banal cliched musings of annoying nothingness!!! Priyan, I have to say I’m shocked.

  3. At the risk of repeating stuff that’s discussed in the comments to Sarah Kay’s video, it depends how you approach it. I actually expected to have a similar reaction to yours, and didn’t think it fitted with the usual TED style (although they do regularly include music segments).

    It’s easy to write her work off as cliché, but she actually uses very few clichés even if many of the ideas are not “new”. Obviously you don’t have to like her style of spoken word poetry — and I certainly might question its technical merit — but it captures a raw sense of wonder phenomenally well. To me, an adult who can conjure the feeling of experiencing the world as a child does have something valuable to offer.

    Essentially I think people dislike her work for the same reason many found my teenage poetry utterly banal and without merit. They’re not wrong, but they totally missed the point: capturing raw emotion in a message that actually reaches someone.

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"Civilization now depends on self-deception. Perhaps it always has."

(CC) BY-NC 2004-2024 Priyan Meewella

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