Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thanks TED for the Talking

Time for a little analysis of a few TED Talks. Remember TED, which stands for Technology|Entertainment|Design, is a group that brings together innovative thinkers to give short speeches about really important ideas. If you have the time to sit down and absorb one, or a couple of the 20 minute speeches there is the potential to learn quite a bit from experts in their respective fields who have probably dedicated their lives to the subject they are speaking about. I'm going to embed some of the talks that I've found most interesting so far, though there are plenty more videos regarding a variety of domains from speakers everyone will recognize like Bill Clinton, Jane Goodall, Al Gore (a recent Nobel Peace Prize Winner), and Bono.

Let me begin with James Nachtwey, probably the most respected photojournalist in the world. James specializes in conflict/social issue photography and has traveled the world photographing the most horrible events of the last few decades. His images are truly remarkable and many of them were taken before the advent of digital technology. He has the courage to capture the conditions that destroy communities, sharing his images with the world. James has seen disease, famine and war in nearly every corner of the world but his humble view of people as equals drives him to document their lives just the same. Most every photojournalist loves to do documentary projects that will allow them to take a journey for the sake of photographing a certain issue or cultural event. Unfortunately the opportunity to pursue such projects is rare, though James Nachtwey is one of the few photographers that is able to base his career on such assignments because of the prestige that goes with his work. He has worked in Bosnia, Kosovo, the West Bank, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Guatemala, Sudan, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Brazil and South Africa too name a diverse few. In South Africa he worked with and befriended Joao Silva, profiled in an earlier post, and the rest of the so-called "Bang Bang Club." If you want to be shocked by the power of his images, I suggest you go to your local library and browse his monsterous book titled "Inferno." The book is an uncensored collection of his most vivid work that will bring out your most guarded emotions. James Nachtwey is and will continue to be a Witness.



The next talk is about Design. William McDonough speaks about creating innovative designs that will benefit "all children, of all species, for all time. Co-author of the book Cradle to Cradle with Michael Braungart, William's talk follows the same themes of the book. The idea is that it is not enough to eco-efficient, designs must be eco-effective. Eco-efficient designs are ones that minimize the harmful effects a product or system has on people and the environment. An example of that is recycling paper. The problem with recycling paper is that you are just delaying the inevitable transformation of the paper into waste, as the more times the paper is recycled the weaker it becomes. An ideal eco-effective design involves no waste whatsoever. Every aspect of the product or system of an eco-effective design creates byproducts that benefit the world we live in in the form of compost or is infinitely recyclable without losing quality. Because of the industrial and technological revolutions we have participated in, the average contemporary process of design involves plenty of waste. Intelligent designers (no religious connotations) need to find materials that will be safe throughout the lifespan of their creations. As we become more conscious of greener design that takes many of its cues from Mother Nature herself, we will move towards William's goal of designing for all children for all time.



The final two talks cover the important debate surrounding the controversy of relying on aid for development. Both speakers gave their talks at the Global TED Conference 2007 in Arusha, Tanzania this year. Andrew Mwenda and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala both make excellent points about the issue. They have fairly different views, but can come to some agreement on certain aspects of the debate. Both of them end up stressing aid is alright, but only if it ends up being used on projects that will have a positive and lasing impact. Contrary to the theories of aid advocates like Bono (what are his credentials again?), Mr. Mwenda suggests that doubling aid arbitrarily or pouring aid into the administrations of developing countries is not a good idea. These leaders are often corrupt and manage the money poorly to say the least. In addition, when services are paid for by aid money it causes domestic populations to be less creative and entrepreneurial because solutions are being imposed from the outside. Ms. Okonjo-Iweala counters by arguing when you live in poverty, you do not care whether the doctor that saves the life of a relative is paid with aid money or not. Aid can save lives and aid can build infrastructure that can lead to increased incomes. Overall, the debate is quite enlightening and the conclusion clearly is that aid can be used for good, but is often wasted. Feedback is essential and not all aid projects are beneficial.


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