As both a storyteller and a tech junkie, friends and colleagues have for the last several years encouraged me to attend TED, the annual conference dedicated to sharing “ideas worth spreading.” TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is both a non-profit organization and a series of conferences featuring 15-minute presentations devoted to individuals and their cutting edge ideas in science, education, and art. I’ve watched dozens of TED Talks online and knew attending in person was a “must do.”
Well that “must do” is now a “did.” Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending TED 2013 in Long Beach, California. For five days I enjoyed watching brilliant, creative thinkers meet and offer their ideas for changing the world. Describing the TED experience can be challenging but this piece in The Verge does a great job of highlighting its nuances and allure.
In many ways, TED is the Internet of conferences — it’s a pipeline to ideas, information, education, and entertainment. TED demonstrates how age, language, social standing or economic status doesn’t hold creativity back, but that creativity is the work of anyone with an idea and the passion to grow and share it. Like the Internet, TED is where ideas have no agenda other than the spread of knowledge.
What we saw with many TED presenters is how the Internet is weaved into their stories, how the Internet enables their creativity and, if it didn’t exist, how the incredible advances in art, culture and science shared at TED could hardly be imagined.
But watching these presentations also made me think of a time when there was no Internet. No limitless web of knowledge and access. And because I remember that, I will never truly be a digital native. Our generation may have invented the Internet, but we’re merely stewards of its possibilities. Until a generation that knows no different takes the reigns and shows us the true power of what we’ve created, its full potential will be unknown. After attending TED, it was apparent to me that this new generation has begun to take control and reveal just what the Internet is capable of.
We saw 15-year-old Jack Andraka speak. Jack invented a test for pancreatic cancer. Before his invention, the test for pancreatic cancer was prohibitively expensive and only accurate in later stages of cancer development. The test this young man invented can accurately confirm cancer very early — early enough to treat the cancer — and the test costs three cents. At the end of his presentation, he said, “Through this journey, I’ve learned an important lesson — that anything is possible with the Internet. You don’t have to be a professor with multiple degrees to have your idea work.”
And Taylor Wilson who just graduated high school came to speak about a compact fission reactor he invented that, unlike traditional nuclear power reactors, runs for 30 years without refueling and is so small that it can be built in a factory and shipped anywhere. They’re safer, easier, and more usable than any other nuclear powered device. Again, without access to a high-speed Internet connection, I can’t imagine how a teenager could even begin to delve into (I can hardly believe I’m even writing this) nuclear reactor conception and construction.
What these young people are doing is dizzying. The ease at which they find themselves empowered with the information needed to change the world is astounding. Their potential lives on the back of the work done in this country over the last 17 years to bring high-speed Internet to almost every American. As a representative of the cable industry that built broadband networks that 93 percent of U.S. homes can access, this makes me proud.
Thanks to cable’s $200 billion investment in networks and other infrastructure, kids, teenagers and young adults are using their Internet connection to do unbelievable, inspirational things. This isn’t a future dream of what the Internet might be – it’s today. The promise of innovation and change, of ideas and invention, of sharing and independence is being fulfilled as we speak with the tools and the power accessible in almost every home right now.
I want to thank all of the TED presenters and guests for an incredible experience. And to the young participants — I can’t wait to see what you do next.