I learnt that 90 year old pensioners can be persuaded to play the bongos, it’s hard to turn into the M25, and we’re all kidding ourselves that we like wine. I learnt that cyclists like to smoke and drink on a sprint, Chinese parents have accidentally named their children after Disney characters, and ‘riot’ can be spelt with a ‘U’ if you try hard enough. I learnt that jean shorts are made from a pair of jeans with the bottoms cut off, that babygrows are hard to put on newborn babies and Scarlett Johansson has at one point run naked through the countryside. Also Jordan Stephens of Rizzle Kicks fame has good chat.
But that’s just the short of it. On Fri 28 Oct, Brighton Dome held its now inaugural TEDx conference, where a long list of dedicated speakers, inventors, designers and those with an idea took to the stage in order to inspire and motivate others to make a difference in a sometimes cruel world, as is the general theme of TED (technology, engineering and design) talks and events.
The day started at 9:30am, which was an early start for me, but luckily I woke up and dragged myself out of bed, grabbing a seat in just in time for the first speaker to take the stage. The room was busy, the event was sold out, and a lack of seated tickets was both a liberating and, at times, a chaotic experience. I was fortunate enough to have some organised and upstanding friends save me a seat near the front.
The event was separated into four segments of four or five talks, with a 20 minute break in the first and last quarters, and a pretty hefty two-hour lunch break in the middle, which if I’m being honest I feel could have been shortened to an hour, with an event start of 10:30, but that’s just me. The theme of the year was We Can Be Heroes, most likely influenced by the death of one of our beloved icons, but poignant in the subjects of discussions across the TEDx stage.
Personality is key
The first talk of the day was one given by Professor Pine, who stressed to us the benefits of being a flextrovert; someone who combines the best features of extrovert and introvert to become someone who can adapt to situations, making them happier, thinner and less stressed. Though her points were interesting and valid, they were also pretty obvious and I must admit a little optimistic. She created a perfect vision of a quality which if you possess can live a blissful happy life, and personally I think that’s quite a dangerous image to advertise.
Removing the stigma of disability
With a speaker like Adam Pearson: journalist, activist and TV personality, the elephant in the room of disability and disfigurement was always going to be attacked head on. One of the most anticipated speakers (and so speaking penultimately) Pearson discussed, rather hilariously, tackling the stigma associated with disfigurement alongside sharing an anecdote of running naked through a forest with Scarlett Johansson. I don’t think it was that relevant to his talk, but I’d probably brag about it too.
But it wasn’t just Pearson who spoke about the importance of eliminating stigma, Paul Richards introduced the TEDx audience to a different kind of approach, one which I personally hadn’t even thought of before. Director of the charity Stay Up Late, Richards spoke about the plague of loneliness that can affect those living with learning disabilities. “Imagine if you had to end each night at 9:30pm,” he asked us. Being a night owl myself, I shuddered to imagine. Gig Buddies is an initiative to connect people with the same interests, which allows those with learning disabilities to make friends, have a beer and see a band they really like with someone else who really likes them. A marvellously simple idea, but one which is so simple, it might just make a big impact.
User thinking can renovate design
And so too can it reinvent spelling; at least according to Sarah Giblin, who created a backpack, entitled RIUT (pronounced ‘riot’) revolutionised by her own experiences of commuting. TEDx speakers are supposedly not allowed to sell from the stage, and though I’m pretty sure I caught a fair amount of advertising going on, she did use her talk to stress that users have a voice in how things are manufactured. A similar message was spread by Tom Cartmale, who after gathering a lot of support from the cycling community, sought to bring back the popular nostalgic brand Coloral, and what’s important to know when embarking on a project like that.
Sometimes the best things come unexpectedly
From parenthood to business, sometimes a dramatic life experience can influence you change the way you think. From listening to birds in order to understand nature, and setting up a place for dads to talk and connect, as did Dave Perrins after he realised there were not enough support networks for men about to become fathers.
We need to do more as citizens
Especially when it comes to speaking up for the rights of others, and use our voices for those who can’t, and this was a topic that was preached on more than a few occasions. Be it trying to understand the plight of migrants in Calais, and not blinding trusting the mainstream media’s portrayal of the so-called ‘Jungle’, to treating rehabilitated prisoners as fully capable members of society, lest we make the problem of reoffending and the prison system in general worse, and showing patience and tolerance with those reaching old age, and especially suffering from dementia, because that may all be us some day.
Be the underdog
Last but not least, the underdog himself took the stage, though most of us probably wouldn’t have labelled Jordan Stephens of Rizzle Kicks fame before his enigmatic TEDx talk. He spoke about living up to expectation, and how continuously trying to ‘level-up’ is not worth the stress it bequeaths you with. Instead, we should revel in being the underdog, and do things to make ourselves happy, not because we feel like we have to.
Come five o’clock, and we’re ushered out into the North Laine, minds brimming with ideas and motivation. In short, I learnt a lot. But most importantly, what I learnt is that we all make a difference if we put our minds to it, and in the words of the late, great David Bowie, “We can be heroes.”