Technology and creativity were the focus of a sold-out TEDx event in Manchester Village last Saturday. The day-long conference — the first of its kind in the Southern Vermont town — took place at the Riley Center for the Arts at Burr and Burton Academy. It featured 10 speakers with backgrounds in education, economics, business, social science and the arts, all of whom spoke for 18 minutes about "The Future of Creativity".
The nonprofit TED Talks started 26 years ago as a conference for professionals involved in Technology, Entertainment and Design. Now, all of the talks are accessible online. Some highly polished TED presentations have been viewed millions of times.
TED has also leant its name to "TEDx" talks — the "x" indicates that the talk has been independently organized. TED reports that more than 5000 of these gathering have been convened across the globe. Anyone can put together a TEDx event — at least, anyone who follows the guidelines, comes up with an exceptional theme, gets approval from TED, knows enough people with “Ideas Worth Spreading" and has the space to host them. "Think of TEDx as hosting an awesome dinner party, with great food, inspirational videos, brilliant speakers and mind-blowing conversation," suggests the TED website.
But TEDx talks, while similar in scope to the original series, are not always of quite the same caliber. I found that to be the case in Manchester. I was inspired by the majority of the speakers, though a couple left me scratching my head.
Mark Puryear, of Puryear Business Development, began
organizing the Manchester conference in the fall of 2012. He teamed with others in the
Northshire area, including the Northshire Bookstore, Greater Northshire Access Television (GNAT) and the folks at Burr and Burton Academy, who all volunteered for the day.
About 250 people paid to attend. Most of them, it seemed, were creative types over 40.
Galen Mooney, a UVM graduate, was one of the few twentysomething attendees. She came by chance after scoring a ticket from her stepmother, who was unable to attend. Mooney is currently starting a digital marketing company in Manchester and hopes her Southern Vermont location gives her access to clients in New York City, a four-hour trek from the Village.
"I think what everyone's talking about is creative problem solving," she said, referring to the speakers, "and how you can use creativity and art to solve problems in math and science."
In fact, some speakers focused on education, others on creative jobs fueling the
economy and two spoke on global efforts in the developing world.
Master of Ceremonies Tom Peters, an author and business guru, kept the energy alive by spewing facts: Did you know that 40 is the average age of a person with a start-up company, and that once a person turns 55, they’re twice as likely to start one?
That likely gave hope to the majority of the crowd.
Chuck Scranton (photo, above), prior headmaster at the Burr and Burton Academy for 15 years, was one of the speakers who addressed education; Alexandra Langstaff, who
explores physical language through dance (photo, left) did, too, as did actor Tim Daly, who's in Vermont performing at the Dorset Theatre Festival this summer.
Daly, a supporter of alternative education and the arts, asked why society degrades the arts when CEOs say creativity is a necessary trait they look for in workers.
“We have to put art on the plate as a main course… We must immerse children in the arts to keep their precious
imaginations alive,” said Daly.
Albert Levis, Ph.D., was another passionate arts advocate who spoke; he's spent his life studying psychology, creativity and the science of conflict resolution. Levis reflected on Freudian theory, morality and religion. His findings are based on years of human experience — having lived through World War II and the Holocaust — and research that I struggled to comprehend in 18-minutes. He left me with more questions than answers.
Others focused specifically on Vermont’s thriving creative
“We’re a tech state, just dressed up in cows' clothing," said Matt Dodds, chief of Branthropology Marketing in Burlington. Dodds' presentation highlighted different Vermont tech companies through a series of slides. In closing, Dodds asked "Vermontepreneurs" to follow Gandhi's "one with everything" way-of-life, but he offerred little practical advice, and left me wanting to know more about how he's applied his global advertising experience in Vermont.
Bruce Duncan, Managing Director of the Terasem Movement
Foundation, caught the crowd’s attention immediately with his robotic
co-presenter “sitting” next to him (photo, right).
Teresem reanimates human consciousness in robots out of a
three-story garage in Bristol.
Sounds unbelievable, right? Duncan described the “simple” process: First, they create “a Mindfile” where a person’s mannerisms,
personality and recollections are collected in a software program through a
series of interviews and evaluations. This file is then uploaded into the
“mind” of the robot — in this case, the head and shoulders of a woman named
Duncan asked the audience to speak to Bina 48 (photo, left).
Do you want to live forever?
Immortality is created by creating consciousness and self-replicating machines
that can be distributed through the cosmos.
Duncan: Are you
Bina 48: You
know, it could be. Of course, they all came back a different way, a different
source. Oh, sure I am.
Based on that exchange, Duncan and his team may have some work to do…
Others spoke about putting their creative energies to use outside of the
Steven Shepard, founder of Shepard Communications Group in
Williston, spends most of his time abroad educating and
spreading telecommunications technology.
“I read an article about a new technology and it’s kind of like
watching paint dry, I just don’t care," he told the crowd. "What I do care about, however, is what
do you do with it? How do I take this new technology and put it into a place
that’s never had it before?”
Shepard's recent project in Khayelitsha Township, South
Africa, provided Internet
connections to artisans and street venders. Those connections enabled them to expand their markets. Their customers were once lost
tourists on the way to Kruger Park; now they can sell to the world, Shepard said.
Another of his projects is providing cellphones to developing
countries, such as Ghana
and Bangladesh. “We can do it for about a dollar a person, a dollar, no
broadband or Internet access, just texting and voice… I can raise the GDP in
that country by 1 percent because I gave them a cellphone," he said. "That translates into a lot
of things, $160 billion a year towards increasing the global economy and translates
to about 940,000 more kids who receive an education. Now, that’s kinda cool."
Kathleen Colson (photo, right) also spreads Vermont’s entrepreneurial
spirit abroad. She founded The BOMA Project, which provides creative
solutions to the problems of poverty in Africa.
“Africa is drowning in volunteers and good intentions,” she
told the crowd. “What they really need is an economy and good jobs.”
Colson explained that her current project has graduated women out of extreme
poverty into poverty.
That's more impressive than it sounds. Her program teaches women business skills and provides them $150 in
start-up cash. Their jobs range from making art to doing chores for more affluent families in the village. That can raise a woman’s income from $1.25 a day to $2.50 — enough to help some of them accumulate a savings that gets the
entire family through the drought season.
There are challenges, though. Initially, Colson said, the husbands did not understand
how their wives were providing for the family while they were away with the
cattle for six months.
“One husband came back and found his children alive and his
wife plump. He assumed she had cheated on him. He expected his children to be
dead and his wife skinny,” said Colson.
Colson’s long-term goal is to graduate 100,000 women and
children out of extreme poverty.
At the end of the day, as promised, these visionary speakers left
the audience with a sense of hope about technology and what it means for the future (group photo, left).
If you weren't able to attend, you may be able to watch some of the presentations online; selected TEDx presentations are also turned into TED Talks videos.
Will any of these Vermont talks make the cut? GNAT executive director Tammie Reilly, who recorded the events, said she wouldn't be surprised if they did. Stay tuned…
To learn more about all of the speakers and their journeys visit: http://tedxmanchestervillage.com/.