Culture TED Talks

Favorites of 2012: Why the eff didn’t you watch these TED Talks?

2012 was the year of radical openness at TED. In that spirit, while our office is closed for winter break, TED’s editorial staffers have selected their favorite talks of the year that, for a variety of reasons, didn’t get as many views as we would have hoped … giving you a peek into both our process and our personalities. We hope you enjoy.

It’s the end of 2012, and that means end-of-the-year lists. And while you’re scrambling to look at photos of 43 people you won’t believe actually exist, to relive the year in animated gifs, or to download the year’s best 100 tracks, you’re not watching TED Talks. Frankly, I’m disappointed. There’s a whole host of nerdy, serious, socially minded, mildly chiding, frankly bizarre talks you might have missed this year. BUMMER FOR YOU. Here are 11 of my favorite TED Talks from 2012 that I’m surprised — nay, appalled – you haven’t seen yet.

Let’s start with William Noel’s talk, “Revealing the lost codex of Archimedes.” Noel is the Director of the Special Collections Center at the University of Pennsylvania and, in this talk, he tells the story of the Archimedes palimpsest, a Byzantine prayer book containing three hidden and previously unknown original writings: one from Archimedes, one from 4th-century-B.C. Greek orator Hyperides, and one a 3rd-century-A.D. commentary on Aristotle’s “Categories” by an unknown source. These works were finally revealed, obviously, by using a powerful particle accelerator. This is easily my favorite talk from TEDxSummit in Doha this year.
This talk has intrigue, medieval manuscripts and a particle accelerator: Why the eff didn’t you watch it?

Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about an injustice
No two ways about it: This is a really, really, really good talk. Bryan Stevenson delivered words at TED2012 that stunned the audience and received one of the longest standing ovations in the history of the conference. And not because he was selling perfume-scented technology flowers from behind well-designed rose-colored glasses, but because he asked us to face harsh truths about race, poverty, degradation, marginalization, incarceration and injustice. At turns candid, stat-filled, intensely personal and acutely aware of tragic moments in history, the talk is an absolute powerhouse. The next day Chris Anderson got on stage and asked for contributions, raising $1.12 million for Stevenson’s nonprofit, the Equal Justice Initiative.
Like I said: really, really, really good talk. Seriously: Why the eff haven’t you watched this?

Chip Kidd: Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is.
Try smelling an e-book the way you can smell a paperback. Welcome: Chip Kidd, design legend. In his talk from TED2012, Kidd showcases the creative process behind book covers he’s worked on at Knopf in the past 30 years, like Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, Augusten Burroughs’ Dry, and Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84. Also, he does a funny dance and is adorable.
Kidd, dinos, naked skeletons, rehab, the Buddha, weird dance: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?

Ed Gavagan: A story about knots and surgeons
I first heard about this guy from a friend who listened to his story on the Moth podcast. While walking down Sullivan Street in downtown New York one perfectly normal day, designer and builder Ed Gavagan found himself face to face with a group of teenagers about to partake in a gang initiation rite — to kill a complete stranger. That stranger: Ed Gavagan. The teenagers opened him hip to neck. Later in the hospital, the doctors gave him a 2% chance of living. In his TEDMED talk, Gavagan pays homage to the surgeons who saved his life.
Ed Gavagan gets stabbed in broad daylight and lives to tell the tale: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?

Karen Bass: Unseen footage, untamed nature
Filmmaker Karen Bass shows footage from her shows on BBC and National Geographic. Watch for an INSANE shot at 5:15 of a bat sucking up nectar with a tongue 1.4 times its height.
The bat tongue is ridiculous: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?

Leslie T. Chang: The voices of China’s workers
Journalist Leslie T. Chang takes a subtle look at Western guilt and the white-savior complex in this portrait of female factory workers from Dongguan, China. The western media portrays Chinese laborers as if they are forced into factories to slave away and suffer making smartphones for rich Westerners, but it’s simply not true, says Chang. Girls leave their villages with an entrepreneurial spirit, betting on the chance at a better life. It doesn’t matter that they can’t afford iPhones themselves, says Chang, because they don’t want them.
This talk predated the unforgettable SNL iPhone 5 Tech Talk sketch featuring peasant laborers from a Chinese Apple factory and hyperbolic iPhone critics from CNET, Wired and Gizmodo. So: Why the eff haven’t you watched it yet?

Beeban Kidron: The shared wonder of film
At a TED salon in London, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason director Beeban Kidron talks about the importance of a good visual narrative. As a founder of FILMCLUB, an English organization devoted to improving the lives of students through after-school film screenings, Kidron seeks to return to today’s generation a sense of cultural heritage through film. In the words of TED’s content distribution editorial specialist Janet Lee, “Why doesn’t this talk have 1,000,000 views?”
Contains footage that will make you laugh and cry, and you won’t know why: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?

Rory Stewart: Why democracy matters
British MP Rory Stewart talks about why the Number 1 reason to support democracy isn’t that it promotes good things like economic growth or equal rights for women … but because it’s inherently a valuable way to approach government.
Rory Stewart talks about the intrinsic, not instrumental, value of democracy. WORD. Why the eff didn’t you watch it?

Leymah Gbowee: Unlock the intelligence, passion, greatness of girls
We should never forget that life can be truly absurd and completely horrible. At TEDActive this year, when I saw Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee’s heart-wrenching talk, you could hear a pin drop in the theater. She talks about a lifetime of having to turn away young Liberian girls who had been denied education and a life free from fear. Each time Gbowee had to say “no” to a girl in need, it spurred her to fight harder for peace and safety for women.
Leymah Gbowee puts the G in girls and gangsta: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?

Bandi Mbubi: Demand a fair trade cell phone
In case there weren’t enough things worrying you about your phone (see: aforementioned factory workers in China, the downfall of Apple Maps, 4-14 on Angry Birds), here’s one more for the list. At TEDxExeter, Congolese activist Bandi Mbubi explains that the tantalum necessary for computers and smartphones has a bloody history, and that the mining and trade of tantalum perpetuate the already devastating atrocities in eastern Congo.
People demand fair-trade food and clothes, so it’s only fair they also demand fair-trade phones. Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?

Bobby Ghosh: Why global jihad is losing
“Jihad” is an insanely loaded word in “the West” (an equally loaded word), and that’s because people don’t really understand it. Before bin Laden made it one of the world’s most powerful and destructive memes, the media was totally happy never talking about jihad. At TEDxGeorgetown, Bobby Ghosh talks about the denigration of the concept of jihad by bin Laden and how his particular brand of jihad died along with him. Now, says Ghosh, it’s time to reclaim the word.
To be an informed consumer of the news, it’s important to understand the players in the failing “war of terror ” and the plurality of agents currently fighting local jihads in the Middle East and Africa. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?

Beeban Kidron at the TED Salon: Unseen Narratives, London. 10 May 2012, Photo: Dafydd Jones/TED

Beeban Kidron at the TED Salon: Unseen Narratives, London. 10 May 2012, Photo: Dafydd Jones/TED