Posts Tagged TED
Every valuable human being must be a radical and a rebel, for what he must aim at is to make things better than they are.
~ Niels Bohr
Just finished reading The Age of the Unthinkable by Joshua Cooper Ramo, and while it was a good book, that closing quote was great, and just the type of motivation I need as I get ready to head back to Vancouver and pick up where I left off. It’s often difficult to find motivation after a great holiday, but that quote delivers.
I’m not sure who liked Saskatchewan more, me or my dog Sally. They say you can see your dog run away for days in Saskatchewan (thankfully that never happened), however in Sally’s case I’m quite sure I would only see her run for a day max given her insane speed and penchant for finding and chasing jack rabbits and other wildlife. In the field I took her to for her walks, what really amazed me is you would, say, see her run off from left to right across your field of vision, maybe 50 meters away from you. You might then swat at mosquitoes for 10 seconds, then look up to find her, and again see her running across your field of vision from left to right at the same distance. I’m sure sometimes she just ran back and forth, but with the afterburners on she might also have circled me. There’s so much deja vu from that you’d swear you were in the Matrix.
And, just because I haven’t shared anything in a while, here is a TED talk I particularly like. All about the remix. Courtesy Lawrence Lessig.
Never leave the scene of a decision without first taking a specific action towards its realization. ~ Tony Robbins
I may not have that exactly right, but the spirit of it is there. So often in the past I have made decisions and basked in the afterglow of ‘accomplishing something’ or ‘doing the right thing’ only to notice that weeks later I still have not taken any steps to make that decision a reality. However, quotes like these are, to me at least, very sticky – once I know them they pop up all the time. It’s like my consciousness has a twitter account and once it gets a hold of something good it tweets it to me at very timely intervals.
I can remember in my undergrad days having to write (seemingly) incredibly long research papers and dreading each one. I would put them off as long as possible and then scramble to put something reasonable out. Then, one day, I came across a motivational poster that said:
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
and it just made perfect sense to me. It’s cheesy, I know, but it worked for me. Whenever I sat down to write something that I knew would be a long journey, I would repeat the quote to myself, and then beginning it would be easy. Just one foot in front of the other. You don’t think about the end state, just the next state, and then you get that feeling of blissful productivity that is so addictive.1
Action precedes motivation.
This is a great segue from one quote to the next. I learned this phrase while working at BrainBoost Education as a tutor. Students are notorious for waiting for motivation to get started on something, generally anything, that resembles school work or homework. Of course, this is a generalization, but it’s mostly true. We would use this phrase all the time to prod students into action. For some it became like a mantra. You utter it before you begin something and soon enough you have done something and then you are motivated. Motivation does not come out of the vacuum – it is manufactured by each of us through doing.
The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. ~ Dave Eggers
I generalize this quote as ‘yes to everything’. Granted, I don’t say yes to literally everything, but if I have no immediate and strong objection to whatever thing is proposed, I immediately think of ‘yes to everything’ and then I say yes. Sometimes whatever it is is awesome, other times it’s just generally ok, but when I think about what I would have been doing, such as watching tv or surfing the internet, I think, ‘man am I ever glad I said yes.’ You should try it – it’s great.
The Lesson, or Theme
The common theme here, if you can’t see it already, is that doing stuff is great. It probably sounds juvenile, but you should always be doing things, real things, things that mean something. The things you do don’t always have to be new or different or meaningful (but bonus points for each if so), but standing still is like death.
A way in which I used these quotes recently: I’m currently looking for a job, and on this morning a week or so ago, I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated. Action precedes motivation – I turned on the computer and inbox zeroed my gmail. One of these emails came from Vantage Point – I get it semi-regularly and it outlines various volunteer opportunities available in Vancouver. This time, quite recently, I saw a posting for ‘Business Coach’ so I clicked through on the link. EMBERS, a Vancouver based organization that is working to eradicate poverty on the DTES, helps individuals get small businesses going through teaching, coaching and sponsorship. They need some people with business experience to commit a few hours each month to helping fresh graduates from their build-a-business program to help them get their businesses running. Say yes to everything - I thought, this is great, that’s what I’ll do, and promptly opened the Globe and Mail to read some news. But my brain said: wait! This is that thing you do where you make a decision without doing anything! Email the person and get this thing rolling! Take a concrete action to make this decision reality – so that is what I did and now I’m signed up and raring to go. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – granted, getting signed up for this was hardly a thousand mile journey, but in the end maybe that is where this first step will take me. And there were, of course, other smaller steps, but without doing that first one right then I would still be thinking what a good idea this was and why hadn’t I done it yet?
Problem Solving using these four rules:
1 – blissful productivity – not a term I made up, but learned from the truly excellent TED talk by Jane McGonigal. You should watch it. In case you aren’t one to take a step toward a decision right away, I will help you out by embedding it below.
I’m going to begin this entry a little off-topic, at least as far as the title goes; I was discussing browsers and ‘the browser war’ with a friend the other day when it seemed that I was, for some reason, ignoring my own advice, which was that everyone interested in speed should use Google Chrome. I was saying how I knew (‘knew’ in the sense that I had read in a number of reasonably reputable sources) that Chrome was faster than Firefox which in turn was faster than IE, and yet I persisted in using Firefox. We speculated whether Google had grown large and popular enough for my personality to turn away from the corporation, but of course realized this was false since (so far, at least) I love everything that Google does and, really, it’s getting kind of scary how much I trust them right now. My friend asked if I used Firefox extensions – of course, I said, they are great – and that of course was the true reason why I had tried Chrome and liked it but turned back to Firefox. Which is not to say that Google Chrome does not have its own extensions and plugins – it’s just that I am well-versed in the extensions of Firefox and so are my friends and colleagues, in which case there are too many productivity related (and, for that matter, non-productivity related) issues for me to switch to Chrome.
And this brings me to the topic of improving the user experience. First, let me say that I am about to whole-heartedly plug my favourite extension to date, because it has truly improved my user experience of browsing the internet, and that I will say right now everyone should be using this thing because it is really that great. The thing is called Ubiquity.
I will say a few things about it first, and then I encourage you to watch the video which I have (hopefully!) embedded correctly below. (On that note, if anyone knows why I am so far unable to embed things in wordpress, please let me know.) Ubiquity is about improving the way in which we interact with the internet. The idea of the project is to create more of a flow experience in that what you want to do online should really take as few keystrokes as possible – consider Ubiquity a shortcut to a less impressive but still amazing future not unlike the kind of object manipulation and interaction Hollywood has presented to us in films like Minority Report. So, for example, if someone wants to meet you at a certain location and sends an address to you in an email, you should be able to press one or two keys and have a map of that place in front of you. Ditto for adding that date to your calendar. The idea (in my mind at least) is to create shortcuts that get away from the ol’ highlight text, copy, google search, click link, paste, hit enter etc. of yesterday and to get us closer to a future of true object and data manipulation in real-time.
From the Ubiquity about page itself:
The overall goals of Ubiquity are to explore how best to:
- Empower users to control the web browser with language-based instructions. (With search, users type what they want to find. With Ubiquity, they type what they want to do.)
- Enable on-demand, user-generated mashups with existing open Web APIs. (In other words, allowing everyone–not just Web developers–to remix the Web so it fits their needs, no matter what page they are on, or what they are doing.)
- Use Trust networks and social constructs to balance security with ease of extensibility.
- Extend the browser functionality easily.
While Ubiquity isn’t perfect, the great thing about it is that it exists today, it’s easy to install and use, it is fully customizable meaning you can program your own shortcuts (or mashups), and it really changes the way you think about all the little actions that make up everything you do online, at least in the sense that everything has a process, an order to it, which taken collectively makes the browser experience a series of repeated interactions and iterations that lack the level of interactivity that many of us have come to expect from the promise of a tomorrow that is never far off yet never quite comes into sharp relief. The title of one of my favourite blogs sums it up best – Where’s my Jetpack?
The second design and user experience thing on my mind can really only be seen to be understood, and so I will once again try to embed a TED talk onto this site. This gets a lot closer to the Minority Report ideal, but of course, while this thing exists, unlike Ubiquity it does not exist (yet) for you and me to use. But it is definitely worth a viewing and it is less than 9 minutes long. It is entitled Unveiling the ‘Sixth Sense,’ game changing wearable tech and it is presented by Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry, of the aptly-named Fluid Interfaces Group at the MIT Media Lab.
My guess is neither of these will embed properly so I have, quite amazingly, used foresight and added links to each video. Ubiquity’s is here and Patti Maes is here. Man, I really can’t wait for the future when I can simply think and have a blog entry appear online. Good times ahead folks.
What free online productivity tools do you use? Do you know of any other demonstrations of human-computer interaction that could change the way we use technology in the future?
This post has been a long time a brewin’. In aniticipation I created a little ‘Great TED Talks’ sidebar over there which will have a rotating (and growing) list of some of my favourites.
First, what does TED stand for? What’s it all about?
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader.
The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes).
(retrieved from the TED.com FAQ)
My friend Matty G first tuned me into these talks and I have been all over them ever since. We used them at BrainBoost Tutoring to engage students in the discussion of complex or philosophical ideas – because the presentations tend to be quite engaging, it was difficult for anyone to tune them out. They had a way of making learning fun…not that it isn’t normally, but this was like ninja-style learning, as if you really had no idea what was going on, but all you knew was that you really wanted to be part of the conversation. Your brain was always going, ‘Hey, wait a minute!’ or, ‘NO WAY!’, and you would generally have the urge to shout out something. We even occassionally had students asking to pause the video so they could say something (not a common occurence in most classrooms where videos=sleep).
In any case, because the ideals of TED (a non-profit organization) are both lofty and inclusive (i.e. ideas have the power to change the world; they are free; so please spread them!), they really encourage others to use the videos in pretty well any way they see fit (so long as you don’t profit from them directly) – there is a list of ways you can help the TED mission on the site. If you’re interested in something, I don’t know, maybe ‘urban design’, you just search for it there and at least a half a dozen videos pop up. Or maybe you need a 20 minute break, just take a stumble through their themed archives and you are sure to find something extremely interesting. Some pretty big names from just about every field you can think of have gone at some point to the annual TED conference and wowed the audience; notables include: Bill Clinton, E. O. Wilson, Dave Eggers, Jeff Bezos, David Kelley, Louise Leakey, Richard Branson, Richard Dawkins, Jill Tarter, Steven Pinker, Dan Dennett, Silvia Earle, Malcolm Gladwell, and my oh my, the list goes on.
For marketers, you pretty much have to check out Malcolm Gladwell’s talk on product design.
A ha! Never mind! I’ve learned to embed! Scratch that. I most definitely have not learned how to embed video. You will need to click through on the links provided. Damn you strikethrough!
And below here is one of my favourite talks that I forgot about until recently. It is weird and wacky, but completely representative of the kind of creative and revolutionary thinking that goes on in the minds of TED speakers. And best of all, it’s short if you only have a little time to relax and unwind.
Update: New TED Talk from Evan Williams on How Twitter’s spectacular growth is being driven by unexpected uses. http://tinyurl.com/ba4uu7