Saturday, October 24, 2009

TEDx Columbus: Tangential Notes in the Lukewarm Gonzo Style (Complete With Parentheses)

If you've been anywhere resembling close proximity to the intellectual pulse of Columbus, you'll know that last Tuesday (that's 10/20/2009 if you're using the Gregorian OS) the Wexner Center hosted TEDx Columbus. The original TED franchise, the story goes, is an annual conference founded by the legendary architect and designer Richard Saul Wurman. It's held in California, draws the best and brightest minds from around the globe, and to a certain degree can be thought of as a kind of forward-thinking cultural yin to Burning Man's low-brow tribal yang. The acronymous name isn't a coincidence either; it stands for something (technology, entertainment, and design to be specific). The x (lower-case please) denotes the Columbus happening as an independently organized event (i.e. not the biggie in California). TED has been referred to as "the ultimate brain spa" and local residents can thank Co-Chairs Nancy Kramer and Ruth Milligan for arranging some of those curative droplets of spa water here in Central Ohio.

Now, having embarked on a somewhat successful transition from punk-rock wannabes to forward-thinking eggheads, my wife Tutti and I jumped at the chance to attend. We dutifully completed our applications for tickets (Yes, applications. I mentioned the best and brightest, right? Forward thinking? Yeah, that too.) and waited for a response. Thankfully, we both made the cut; our applications were accepted and we were cleared to purchase tickets (I still shudder at the potential discomfort had one of us not been accepted. "Don't feel bad. Maybe being a forward-thinking egghead isn't really your calling after all." Someone has to hold up the middle of the bell curve, right?).

And considering the line-up for TEDx Columbus, who wouldn't want to attend? On hand were Superstar Librarian Chrystie Hill, Understander of Dance Norah Zuniga Shaw, Senator John Glenn (that's him (in a rare moment on earth) getting a lid for his Tang), as well as a host of others. In the true TED style, Tuesday's evening was eclectic, multi-disciplinary, and eye-opening. It was a night that taught us to take games more seriously (thank you Ann Pendleton-Jullian) and atomic bombs less so (thank you John Mueller). Nearly as startling was the realization that world hunger might be battled by a contraption that looks like a prop for the Blue Man Group and fits into a suitcase (thank you Reade Harpham). There was a palpable sense energy and optimism, culminating in the realization that if we, as a people, could simply muster the resources and means to allow more smart people do more smart things the world would be a much better place (Oh bright shiny future, how you vex us so! We trudge and plod along yet never seem to arrive.).

Now if this were the '70s and you were reading an authentic piece of Gonzo journalism, I would have, at some point, fallen drunkenly into the fresh mozzarella salad (while shouting Marxist slogans?). Instead, I enjoyed it...along with most of the other catered treats assembled to nourish the best and brightest of Columbus. Don't take this wrong gentle organizers, but this surprised me. I've been burned enough by the promise of "heavy hors d'oeuvres" at ticketed events like this in the past that I'm usually satisfied if I can get in on the brie before it vanishes. This was not the case on Tuesday evening. Apparently $50.00 can still buy a decent meal in this town. My thanks to the staff and caterers for managing to present something very much like a dinner (albeit within the confines of Styrofoam plates and plastic utensils). The dessert spread at intermission was equally impressive. Event planners take note: there is great value in the kind of civility that can be engendered by simply making sure there's enough for everyone!

So yes, we fed our brains and our bodies that night ^tired metaphor, revise before posting, and then engaged in a little creativity of our own. My wife you see, has mastered the art of photographs that look like paintings (or more specifically, photographs that look like Gerhard Richter paintings). Tuesday night I think she may have created her masterpiece. It's a portrait of Senator Glenn as he prepared for his part of the presentation. You'll of course recognize the candid, blurry of style of Richter in this work, but without the cumbersome seven-digit price tag. We're all too lazy to set up a Creative Commons account, so I'll simply invite you to steal and reproduce as you see fit. Copyright will be dead by 2020 anyway (at least according to this much-ballyhooed extinction timeline) so we may as well start now.

Afterwards, we couldn't resist mugging for the camera with the other mugs in front of Harry Shearer's installation "Silent Echo Chamber". I took the opportunity to engage John McCain in a little Brady Bunch style head turning, while Tutti channeled the perpetually perturbed James Carville. And how could I pass up striking the universal "This clown...?" pose for Dr. Henry Kissinger. I can only imagine what Hunter Thompson would have done.


  1. Jeff,
    Thanks for the re-cap from your perspective of TEDx. Certainly glad we switched caterers the week before (more real food for less $ over less fancy food for more $) or who knows how your post might have been influenced! Seriously, glad to hear your insight and of course, thrilled you and your wife enjoyed it. I wanted to say planning of it was a bit like watching sausage (even the vege type) being made - it tasted fine in the end but the process was a not to be observed. It will be easier next time (um, next time??!).
    Ruth Milligan

  2. Thanks for commenting Ruth! We really did enjoy the event and appreciate all the work that went into it. I've had a hand in a number programs and professional events and am certainly aware of how messy the process can be. Rest assured, from the perspective of this attendee, it all came together as a first-class and worthwhile event. Pats on the back for everyone involved!

  3. Thanks for the summation Jeff. I really enjoyed the event too.