Perhaps you are looking forward to a new and hopeful 2014; perhaps you see late December as the perfect time for reflection and resolution. I’m pleased to let you off the hook. This is the time when you should look back at your year and focus on the question: What TED Talks did I miss? Lucky for you, the 2013 edition of “Why the eff didn’t you watch these TED Talks?” — which, amazingly, you seemed to like last year — is here. New and hopeful is fine and good, but I’m more in favor of not forgetting the old, the weird, the mystifying, the liminal and the hidden. And so I give you: My favorite 11 under-loved TED Talks of 2013. Be ready to be mildly chastised for missing out on them the first time around.
Andrew Solomon: Depression, the secret we share
If you haven’t seen this talk yet, you’re excused, as it was just published last week. But if you don’t watch it in the next 30 seconds, you have some thinking to do, young man/lady. Writer Andrew Solomon, who also gave the beautiful talk “Love, no matter what,” exposes the deep, dark recesses of his mind from the years of his depression. His voice wraps you in a dark, heavy verbal blanket flecked with gold. His quotes and stories and jokes weave together effortlessly, in such a way that even the most cynical of viewers will find themselves giving Solomon a standing ovation in front of their laptop. It’s hard to believe that he actually talks like that in real life, but we’re told he does.
Solomon somehow makes thirty minutes on depression the best part of your day. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk (yet)?
Parul Sehgal: An ode to envy
The wonderful and eloquent Parul Sehgal had me at “Proust and sexual jealousy.” Literary critic Sehgal argues that the best lab for jealousy is the novel, evoking our favorite neurotic boy, Marcel, and his masochistic hero-in-love, Swann. Sehgal’s self-deprecating wit makes the topic of jealousy surprisingly delightful. As she says, wanting to possess someone is not so unlike a quest for knowledge, and jealousy is not so unlike telling a story. “Jealousy,” she says, “makes us all amateur novelists.”
Parul Sehgal admits that at age 8 she changed her classmate’s grade in her teacher’s grade book. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?
Ken Jennings: Watson, Jeopardy and me, the obsolete know-it-all
This talk requires a little bit of American pop culture trivia, but its message is universal: Even if you are the world champion of factoid collection, you will still someday be beaten by a supercomputer. Ken Jennings, who holds the record for the longest streak on the American game show Jeopardy!, gives a hilarious talk on what it was like to lose to IBM supercomputer Watson in 2011. This talk somehow turned me into a follower of the Cult of Ken, about nine years too late and despite not having watched Jeopardy! growing up.
This talk made me get a Twitter account just to follow Ken Jennings. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch it?
Charmian Gooch: Meet global corruption’s hidden players
Global Witness co-founder Charmian Gooch is kicking ass and taking names. She begins her talk on global corruption by drawing you in with portraits of the outrageously wealthy, decadent and gluttonous. Gooch drops fact after appalling fact about how “far-away” countries are being robbed by the powerful and corrupt and how the international banking system enables them — and makes us all complicit. You’ll hang on her every word, for fear that she’ll implicate someone you know and you’ll miss it.
Charmian Gooch is a badass who doesn’t tolerate corruption at any level, no matter who is involved. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?
Stuart Firestein: The pursuit of ignorance
I know that I know nothing. I also know that I like to collect wise white-haired grandfather figures, and Stuart Firestein is an excellent addition. His talk on how science is basically just farting around in the dark is funny and philosophical and calls for “high-quality ignorance.” A great talk on how science is less an acquisition of a finite number of known facts and more a journey of questions, ignorance and unknowing.
This talk is about “high-quality ignorance.” So: Why the eff didn’t you watch it?
Iwan Baan: Ingenious homes in unexpected places
I first heard about the Zabbaleen — the trash-collecting Coptic community in Cairo that recycles 80 percent of what they find by allowing their pigs to forage through collected heaps — in 2009, during the swine flu scare, from a good friend studying in Cairo. She told me that the city had ordered that these pigs to be killed, meaning that the city would lose its extremely efficient recycling system, one of the best in the world. Now, I get to see the literally trashy world of the Zabbaleen through the eyes of Dutch photographer Iwan Baan. In a fascinating talk, he shows how disadvantaged communities — like that of the Zabbaleen — can become places of remarkable innovation and expressions of personal aesthetic. I also learned an important lesson from Baan: Every community needs a barber, be it a 45-story abandoned tower in Caracas Venezuela, or a floating village in Nigeria.
This talk has people living underground and cows living inside apartments. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch it?
John McWhorter: Txtng is killing language. JK!!!
Linguist John McWhorter argues that texting is not a scourge, but a “linguistic miracle.” Breaking down the grammar of a typical text message, McWhorter argues that it’s more accurate to think of texting as “fingered speech,” more like a spoken language than a written one. He points out that across cultures, people are able to speak slangy, grammatically loose spoken sentences while still maintaining the ability to write in grammatically and syntactically accurate language. So, no worries, our kids aren’t going to live in a linguistic circus in 20 years.
John McWhorter makes linguistics fun and texting un-horrible. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?
Janette Sadik-Khan: New York’s streets? Not so mean any more
In an ode to my great city of New York, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan shows off three major projects the city created to cut down on congestion, decrease traffic injuries, and boost retail. The talk was given in September, four months after New York’s first bike-sharing program launched, and it was a great first look into the success of the program. I’ve always thought New York was a bit backward compared to cities like Paris and Amsterdam, which are incredibly bike-friendly. But the success of Citi Bike and the rest of Sadik-Khan’s programs in transforming the city’s streets is a testament to the true adaptability of New Yorkers – and the fact that, in this city, the tide of change always wins out over the nostalgic curmudgeons.
Janette Sadik-Khan transformed Times Square by shutting down car traffic for five blocks and putting out lawn chairs. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?
Jeff Speck: The walkable city
My biggest gripe about growing up in the suburbs was that until I was 17 it was impossible to go anywhere without a licensed driver. My town was so intent on teenage oppression that it never occurred to the government that sidewalks might be desirable. My hometown could learn a thing or two from city planner Jeff Speck, who has an earth-shattering idea that is going to save everyone: walking. He gives an anti-urban-sprawl talk that argues that walking will solve the economic, health and environmental problems rampant in the U.S. Sing it, brother.
Walking: It’s simple, and it solves everything. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?
Dambisa Moyo: Is China the new idol for emerging economies?
Economist Dambisa Moyo makes an interesting argument: In emerging markets, the American Dream has a new sparring partner: the Chinese Dream. Capitalism and democratic representation is no longer the only model for success, argues Moyo. She presents a compelling new narrative to the Rise of China: What’s really worrisome for Western democracies is that they’re losing credibility with emerging markets.
Dambisa Moyo offers a new perspective to the standard narrative of the Rise of China. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?
James Flynn: Why our IQ levels are higher than our grandparents’
There has been a massive increase in IQs in the past century. Why? Well, James Flynn — the father of the “Flynn Effect” and another great addition to my Grandfather Collection — argues that it’s not because we’re all geniuses and our ancestors were mentally deficient, but because over time we’ve become better at thinking in the abstract and imagining hypotheticals, which is what IQ tests test for. According to Flynn, our ancestors were more mentally rigid, and could only think about what was directly and tangibly in front of them. Were my ancestors unable to imagine beyond the concrete world? I’d like to think so, but I suppose the relevant question is: Were they able to imagine what life and thinking would be like for me?
James Flynn has a capital E effect named after him and an excellent beard. So: Why the eff didn’t you watch this talk?
Like these talks? I certainly hope so. See the talks I wish you’d watched in 2012 »