Youth TED Conferences

TEDYouth Session 2: “Out to the edge of knowledge”

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All photos: Ryan Lash

After an amazing break (filled with beatboxing and Interesting Things) we reconvene for Session 2 of TEDYouth.


“I’m not going to blow anything up,” says Adam Savage. :( He’s best known for his role as co-host of the TV show MythBusters on the Discovery Channel. (Watch his talk on His work on TV is about testing, clear thinking, and applying the scientific method to the questions we want answered. Onstage at TEDYouth, he thinks deeply about science, and shares a classic experiment by Fizeau, who used a notched wheel to discover, elegantly, that light had a speed. “Today’s discoveries are possible by technology developed in the last few decades, but most of human history has relied on senses.” He says: “Most people think of science as a closed black box, but in fact it is an open field … and there is no such thing as a fact that cannot be independently corroborated.”


Steve Stoute talked about how hip-hop has transformed a new generation. If you grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, he says, you were one or the other: rock-and-roll or hip-hop. But as he looks out onto this young audience he says: “Cultural diversity is something that your generation has full access to.” Think of skateboarding. “Is skateboarding only for skinny white kids anymore?” he asks? “No. It’s for everybody. Everybody can partake in anything.” Call it the Tanning Effect: that all culture is melding and everyone’s free to take from where they wish: “Different skin colors can come from different places, yet still have similar beliefs.” Stoute screened for us a defining cultural moment of the Tanning Effect: “Walk This Way,” starring Run-DMC with Aerosmith. (Dear people of the ’70s and ’80s, please know that the young audience was cracking up laughing at this ancient document.) But it’s true now: “With the Internet, you can see culture and be inspired anywhere at any time. That is why you can be anything you want to be.”


Jason Munshi-South is a researcher at Baruch College who studies the behavioral, ecological and evolutionary impacts of humans on the inhabitants of New York City parks. By which he means: mice, rats, salamanders — even coyotes (though he can’t tell you where yet). He says “I’m here to encourage you to think about New York City in a new way — as an evolutionary force.” What does that mean? It means that salamanders who live under the bridge at 169th Street have slightly different DNA than salamanders who live at 180th Street, on the opposite side of the same bridge. Mice in one park are developing different traits and habits than mice in a nearby park, as if they were urban Galapagos islands. And it turns out: City mice really are different from country mice.


Can you imagine a kid from South Central LA changing his/her mind from becoming a gang member to a National Geographic Explorer? That’s exactly what happened to Juan D. Martinez. Given the ultimatum of staying in dentention or joining the eco-club, Juan took a chance on the eco-club. And though he originally suffered from a “nature deficit disorder”, he found an easy fix by just getting outside! Juan’s story is a testament to youth to “never ever doubt what you can do.”


Daniela Schiller is an assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Her research studies “the process in which experience turns to memory.” The question shes’ interested in: Why does a bad memory stay with us for so long — and in what part of the brain does it live? It turns out that memory is active; it changes. “Every time we retrieve a memory, we have to consolidate it again,” she says. “The act of remembering is a new experience in itself. Each time we retrieve a memory and re-store it, it’s a little bit different — what we remember is not the original event, it’s our latest version of it.” So, she suggests, sometime in a future, we might be able tofind the place where a bad memory is stored, and physically interfere with the act of remembering it again. In fact, we can even do something like that now: “When you have a fear-memory: think of it, then think of something nice. Maybe a part of that will be re-remembered with the fear memory.”


Ish Islam and Justin Long-Moton come to us from New York City’s Urban Word program, and are two of its finest young poets. Working in tight harmony they spun a poem for the very young — that age when “Mario taught us self worth every time he said ‘it’s a-me!'” and “We knew Crayola on a first-name basis, but were blind to the color of our best friends.”


Kevin Allocca is the trends manager of YouTube, where he tracks popular video phenomena. Yes: His job is to watch YouTube videos all day. To give you a sense of that: 40 hours of video are uploaded every minute onto YouTube. What makes one video go viral? Like, why did 31 million of us watch this? (It’s “Double Rainbow,” in case you don’t want to click and be part of the 32nd million.) Why have 4 million people watched a 3-hour version of Nyan Cat? “What does it meeeeean?” Kevin shows us how this world of silliness is driven by community — both in sharing a great link and in making a video reply of your own. As he says: “An entire remix community brought the rainbow video from just a stupid joke to being something we can all be a part of.”


Brad Meltzer writes political thrillers and ferrets out inspiring history. He’s the co-host of the History Channel’s Decoded. He asks: “How do you change history? Bream big, work hard, stay humble.” And it’s never too soon to start. “Who has the best dreams of all? You. Young people.” So: start. How old was Dr. Martin Luther King when he led the Mongomery bus boycott? 26. Two 17-year-olds created Superman. Eight-year-old Alex raised $1 for cancer research. “If you dream big, I don’t care how old you are, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, you will change history. So get your pens ready and write us something spectacular.”


Lemon Andersen is a Tony-winning performer and spoken-word artist, the subject of the documentary Lemon. He takes the TEDYouth stage with an impressive performance of how “it ain’t about being heard, just being seen.” Lemon’s goal? To transcend poetry into the world. Or: “How do I get people who hate poetry to love me?” However, before he could do that, Lemon shares a few lessons he learned that goes beyond self-expression and into creative control. Some lessons he learned in the world he grew up in: “While you went to a privileged school to learn the sonnets of Shakespeare, I was getting my beats kicked into me.” And some he learned when he tried to make his living as a performer and was judged “too black to be white, too white to be doing it right.”


How can you possibly end this? With a Rube Goldberg machine, of course. The team from Wantagh High School spent all day yesterday assembling this crazy complicated machine onstage. And they let it rip!

— Writing and research by Corvida Raven