Time magazine gives the inaugural TED Prize Winner their big annual award. (Well, he has to share it with a Mr. and Mrs. Gates.)
Chris Anderson, TED Curator:
And now, live from a secret location outside the United States. we’re delighted to welcome to the TED stage, the world’s greatest rock and roll star. If this works, it will be truly a miracle of technology. Bono!
Well, as Alexander Graham Bell famously said on his first successful telephone call, “Hello. Is that Domino’s Pizza?”
I just really want to thank you very much. As another famous man, Jerry Garcia, said, “What a strange long trip.” He should have said, “What a strange long trip it’s about to become.” No drugs involved here. Congratulations to Edward Burtynsky, Robert Fischell. An honor to be standing here beside you … or not, as the case may be. Very cool technology. Fair play to Jim Young who I believe is there and Teleportec. They’re making things possible that were once unimaginable. At this very moment, you are viewing my upper half. My lower half is appearing at a different conference. In a different country.
You can, it turns out, be in two places at once. But, still, I’m sorry I can’t be with you in person. I’ll explain at another time the very good reasons. A lot of names in the audience I know. Quincy, hello, Dean, Matt, Shashi, you just heard from, and Jamie and Seth, who just picked up the prize. The strangest name of all, TED. Strange name for a fairy godmother, and I’m gonna tell you my three wishes later. And, though I’m a rock star, I just want to assure you, Chris Anderson, that none of my wishes will include a hot tub. All right?
I’m an odd choice for a technology prize. Music, media, maybe, but technology, I don’t know. I should probably point out that U2 did not invent the iPod. We only appear in the ads.
Money changed hands, I want you to know. And, yes, you deal in ones and zeros, we like that. Like most people these days, I am digitized, hypnotized by dreams you people realize, broken up into bits and bytes, ripped and zipped for you tonight, downloaded, pixilated until the battery is degraded. Rhymes, crimes, sharing files.
Listen, I want to say one thing: the music business should not fear you technologists. It should thank you. It will soon owe you.
I know that there’s some stuff that has to be worked out. For music people, this takes some getting used to. There isn’t a band out there that doesn’t want its songs on everyone’s stereo, and its melodies in everyone’s head, but for free? That wasn’t part of the deal now was it? And now, of course, we’ve all become hardnosed capitalists, and you have strung-out guitarists muttering about “intellectual property, dude.”
Anyway, I’m digressing. I wasn’t gonna talk to you about music. My friend, Roger McNamee, who I hope is there, can do that. There is a lot of interesting stuff going on at Elevation Partners, but what really turns me on about technology is not just the ability to get more songs on MP3 players. The revolution, this revolution is much bigger than that. I hope, I believe. What turns me on about the digital age, what excites me personally is that you have closed the gap between dreaming and doing.
See, it used to be that, if you wanted to make a record of a song, you needed a studio and a producer. Now you need a laptop. If you wanted to make a film, you needed a mass of massive equipment and a Hollywood budget. Now, you need a camera that fits in your palm and a couple of bucks for a blank DVD. Imagination has been decoupled from the old constraints, and that really, really excites me. I’m excited when I glimpse that kind of thinking writ large.
What I would like to see is idealism decoupled, idealism decoupled from all constraints: political, economic, technological, whatever. The geopolitical world has got a lot to learn from the digital world, from the ease with which you swept away obstacles that no one knew could even be budged, and that’s actually what I’d like to talk about today.
First, though, I should probably explain why and how I got to this place. It’s a journey that started 20 years ago. You may remember that song, “We Are the World,” or “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” Band Aid, Live Aid, another very tall, grizzled rock star, my friend, Sir Bob Geldof’, issued a challenge to feed the world. It was a great moment, and it utterly changed my life.
That summer, my wife, Allie, and myself went to Ethiopia. We went on the quiet to see for ourselves what was going on. We lived in Ethiopia for a month working at an orphanage. The children had a name for me. They called me “The Girl with the Beard.”
Don’t ask. Anyway, we found Africa to be a magical place — big skies, big hearts, big shining continent, beautiful royal people. Anybody who ever gave anything to Africa got a lot more back. Ethiopia didn’t just blow my mind, it opened my mind. Anyway, on our last day at this orphanage, a man handed me his baby and said, “Would you take my son with you?” And he knew in Ireland that his son would live, and that in Ethiopia, his son would die. It was the middle of that awful famine. Well, I turned him down, and it was a funny kind of sick feeling, but I turned him down, and it’s a feeling I can’t ever quite forget. And, in that moment, I started this journey. In that moment, I became the worst thing of all. I became a rock start with a cause . Except this isn’t a cause, is it?
Six and a half thousand Africans dying every single day from AIDS, a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can get in any pharmacy. That’s not a cause. That’s an emergency. Eleven million AIDS orphans in Africa, 20 million by the end of the decade. That’s not a cause. That’s an emergency. Today, every day, 9,000 more Africans will catch HIV because of stigmatization and lack of education. That’s not a cause. That’s an emergency. So what we’re talking about here is human rights – the right to live like a human. The right to live period. What we’re facing in Africa is an unprecedented threat to human dignity and equality.
The next thing I’d like to be clear about is what this problem is and what this problem isn’t, because this is not all about charity. This is about justice. Really, this is not about charity. This is about justice. That’s right. And that’s too bad, because we’re very good at charity. Americans, like Irish people, are good at it. Even the poorest neighborhoods give more than they can afford. We like to give, and we give a lot. Look at the response to the tsunami. It’s inspiring.
But justice is a tougher standard than charity. You see, Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice. It makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties. It doubts our concern. It questions our commitment. Because there’s no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we’re honest, conclude that it would ever be allowed to happen anywhere else. As you heard in the film, anywhere else, not here, not here, not in America, not in Europe. In fact a head of state that you’re all familiar with admitted this to me, and it’s really true. There is no chance this kind of hemorrhaging of human life would be accepted anywhere else other than Africa.
Africa is a continent in flames and, deep down, if we really accepted that Africans were equal to us, we would all do more to put the fire out. We’re standing around with watering cans, when what we really need is the fire brigade, and that’s what I’m trying to do tonight, really. That’s why I’m speaking to you. I’m trying
to call the fire brigade. I’m asking for your help.
I’m an Irish rock star in America. I love this country. I know my way around, but I really need help here. This stuff isn’t even on the news. You see, it’s not as dramatic as the tsunami. It’s crazy, really, when you think about it. Does stuff have to look like an action movie these days to exist in the front of our brain? The slow extinguishing of countless lives is just not dramatic enough, it would appear. Catastrophes that we can avert are not as interesting as ones we could avert. Funny that.
Anyway, I believe that that kind of thinking offends the intellectual rigor in this room. Six and a half thousand people dying a day in Africa may be Africa’s crisis, but the fact that it’s not on the nightly news, that we in Europe or you in America are not treating it like an emergency. I want to argue with you tonight that that’s our crisis.
Okay, I’d like to hard cut now from the moral imperative to the strategic, ’cause this is not all about heart. We have to be smart here. I want to argue that, though Africa is not the frontline in the war against terror, it could be soon. Every week, religious extremists take another African village. They’re attempting to bring order to chaos. Well, why aren’t we?
Poverty breeds despair. We know this. Despair breeds violence. We know this. In turbulent times, isn’t it cheaper and smarter to make friends out of potential enemies than to defend yourself against them later?
Well, the war against terror is bound up in the war against poverty, and I didn’t say that. Colin Powell said that. Now when the military are telling us that this is a war that cannot be won by military might alone, maybe we should listen. There’s an opportunity here, and it’s real. It’s not spin. It’s not wishful thinking.
The problems facing the developing world afford us in the developed world a chance to redescribe ourselves to the world. We will not only transform other peoples’ lives, but we will also transform the way those other lives see us, and that might be smart in these nervous, dangerous times.
Okay, I’d like to talk for a second about commerce. I know we’ve got some brainy corporate leaders in the room here. Don’t you think, that on a purely commercial level, that anti-retroviral drugs are great advertisements for Western ingenuity and technology? Doesn’t compassion look well on us? And let’s cut the crap for a second. In certain quarters of the world, brand EU, brand USA is not at its shiniest. The neon sign is fizzing and cracking. Someone’s put a brick through the window. The regional branch managers are getting nervous. Never before have we in the West been so scrutinized. Our values — do we have any? Our credibility. These things are under attack around the world. Brand USA could use some polishing, and I say that as a fan, you know … As a person who buys the products.
But think about it. More anti-retrovirals makes sense. But that’s just the easy part — or ought to be. But equality for Africa – that’s a big, expensive idea. You see, the scale of the suffering numbs us into a kind of indifference. What on earth can we all do about this? Well, much more than we think. We can’t fix every problem, but the ones we can, I want to argue, we must. And because we can, we must.
This is the straight truth, the righteous truth. It is not a theory. The fact is that ours is the first generation that can look disease and extreme poverty in the eye, look across the ocean to Africa, and say this and mean it, “We do not have to stand for this.” A whole continent written off, we do not have to stand for this. So —
And let me say this without a trace of irony, before I back it up to a bunch of ex-hippies, forget the ’60s. We can change the world. I can’t. You can’t, as individuals. But WE can change the world. I really believe that the people in this room… look at the Gates Foundation. They’ve done incredible stuff, unbelievable stuff. But working together, we can actually change the world. We can turn the inevitable outcomes and transform the quality of life for millions of lives who look and feel rather like us when you’re up close.
I’m sorry to laugh here, but you do look so different than you did in Haight-Ashbury in the ’60s.
But I want to argue that this is the moment that you were designed for. It is the flowering of the seeds you planted in earlier, headier days. Ideas that you just stated in your youth, this is what excites me. This room was born for this moment is really what I want to say to you tonight. Most of you started out wanting to change the world, didn’t you? Most of you did. The digital world. Well, now, partly because of you, it is possible to change the physical world. It’s a fact. Economists confirm it, and they know much more than I do, so why then are we not pumping our fists into the air? Probably because when we admit we can do something about it, we’ve got to do something about it.
It is a pain in the arse. This equality business is actually a pain in the arse. But for the first time in history, we have the technology. We have the know how. We have the cash. We have the lifesaving drugs. Do we have will? Well, if we don’t, you at this conference, I know, will know where to find it. And, you know, it was you people who dreamed up this century – you people along that stretch of coast. Fifty years ago, if someone asked who would end up defining the shape, the possibilities of the 21st century, people might have said, “Oh, the English. They’re builders of empire, great engineers. Maybe the Germans, gods of efficiency, crunchers of numbers. Maybe the Japanese. They’re wizards of microcircuitry.” But it wasn’t any of them. It was bearded, beaded, Birkenstock-wearing West Coasters.
Fans of Jimmy Hendrix. Yeah, followers of the Grateful Dead, and just down the road there, just down the road. People who spent most of the ’60s in a purple, sometimes even herbal haze, you rewrote the rules for the rest of us, for the rest of the world. And I’m not just talking about the crazy ideas – the creativity that spilled out of the campuses and the concerts into Silicon Valley. I’m not just talking about imagination. I’m talking about action, because these hippies got organized. For some people, the ’60s was only about dreaming. But for others, it was about turning idealism into action – action for civil rights, for women, for the environment, against the war. That’s the kind of ’60s I’m interested in. And I think it’s taken on a whole new shape and meaning in the zeroes, in 2005.
I hope this is obvious, but I’m not a hippie, and I’m not really one for the warm, fuzzy feeling. I do not have flowers in my hair. Actually, I come from punk rock. The Clash wore big army boots, not sandals. But I know toughness when I see it. And for all the talk of peace and love on the West Coast, there was muscle to the movement that started out here.
You see, idealism detached from action is just a dream. But idealism allied with pragmatism, with rolling up your sleeves and making the world bend a bit, is very exciting. It’s very real. It’s very strong, and it’s very present in a crowd like you.
Last year at DATA, this organization I helped set up, and we launched a campaign to summon this spirit in the fight against AIDS and extreme poverty. We’re calling it the ONE Campaign. It’s based on our belief that the action of one person can change a lot, but the actions of many coming together as one can change the world. Well, we feel that now is the time to prove we’re right. there are moments in history when civilization redefines itself. We believe this is one. We believe that this could be the time when the world finally decides that the wanton loss of life in Africa is just no
longer acceptable. This could be the time that we finally get serious about changing the future for most people who live on planet earth. Momentum has been building — lurching a little — but it’s building.
This year is a test for us all, especially the leaders of the G-8 nations, who really are on the line here with all the world and history watching. I have been, of late, disappointed with the Bush administration. They started out with such promise on Africa. They made some really great promises and, actually, have fulfilled a lot of them. But some of them, they haven’t. They don’t feel the push from the ground — it’s the truth…. But there’s much more push from the ground than you’d think if we got organized.
What I try to communicate, and you can help me if you agree, is that aid for Africa is just great value for money at a time when America really needs it. Putting it in the crassest possible terms, the investment reaps huge returns, not only in lives saved, but in goodwill, stability, and security that we will gain. So this is what I hope that you’ll do, if I could be so bold, and not have it deducted from my number of wishes.
What I hope, what I hope is that beyond individual merciful acts, that you will tell the politicians to do right by Africa, by America, and by the world. Give them permission, if you like, to spend their political capital and your financial capital, your national purse, on saving the lives of millions of people. That’s really what I would like you to do. Because we also need your intellectual capital, your ideas, your skills, your ingenuity. And you, at this conference, are in a unique position. Some of the technologies we’ve been talking about, you invented them, or at least revolutionized the way that they’re used. Together, you have changed the zeitgeist from analog to digital and pushed the boundaries, and we’d like you to give us that energy, give us that kind of dreaming, that kind of doing.
As I say, there are two things on the line here. There’s the continent, Africa, but there’s also our sense of ourselves. People are starting to figure this out. Movements are springing up. Artists, politicians, pop stars, priests, CEOs, NGOs, mother’s unions, student unions, a lot of people are getting together and working under this umbrella I told you about earlier, the ONE Campaign. I think they just have one idea in their mind, which is: Where you live in the world should not determine whether you live in the world.
History, like God, is watching what we do. When the history books get written, I think our age will be remembered for three things. Really, it’s just three things that this whole age will be remembered for. The digital revolution, yes. The war against terror, yes. And what we did or did not do to put out the fires in Africa. Some say we can’t afford to. I say we can’t afford not to.
Thank you. Thank you very much.