TedX Salford


Yesterday was TedX Salford IV– and I spent all day being dazzled by fascinating, hilarious and thought-provoking presentations. Links to all the speakers mentioned below are available.

After the welcome we kicked off with Brooke Magnanti explaining the history of anonymity. As former call-girl blogger Belle de Jour she discussed both notable examples of anonymity in the past and her personal choice to claim her identity before tabloids claimed it for her.

Massimo Marchiori talked about the “short blanket” effect- where no matter how comfy technology makes things there is always an area where it falls short and your metaphorical feet get cold. An interesting example was that the 1st generation of mobiles- the “brick” phones- had better quality of call sound than those nowadays and that a lot of the technology decisions we make are actually made by our caveman mentality of “just survive”.

Bruce Hood’s talk was on the often secular superstitions we carry over from childhood such as mind/body duality and the doctrine of signatures. It was a really interesting talk and mentioned how western children (who start sleeping apart much earlier than in other cultures) have security blanket toys and imbue them with personality.

Jack Andraka talked about how he created a cheaper, faster, simpler detector for pancreatic cancer while still at school: a funny talk with a serious endnote that pointed out the problems of information access for young scientists when vital articles are held behind pay-walls- creating an information class system where money is necessary for learning.

Jack Sim (aka Mr Toilet) took up the serious subject of sanitation issues with considerable humour. Due to his considerable effort in raising awareness in this field 19 November is World Toilet Day and he noted that we cannot deal with the problem of sanitation in the developing world if we won’t talk about it due to taboo. I also liked his quote that “Death is your ultimate motivator” but most people tweeting focused on his idea that a billionaire is not a person with a billion pounds or dollars but rather the one who has helped a billion people.

Kate Russell was up next talking about how crowdfunding was not “money for nothing” but a real and worthwhile exchange which involved hard work. This talk also included the fun fact that the money for the base of the Statue of Liberty was raised by old-style crowdfunding.

Next, James Glattfelder gave a philosophical talk on the subject of reality and what we can know; Juliet Mitchell talked about war being an “allowed” form of killing which she linked to the “unallowed” killing of our siblings that we experience as toddlers; and Lucy Hawking talked about getting kids interested in science by involving them with narrative that they can identify with.

With lunchtime came the Breakout sessions. I attended Anthony Zboralski’s session on Privacy and Security- a discussion with a Q&A which covered the problem that while we want privacy, it doesn’t really exist and there is no product that guarantees it. Even a guy who’d chosen to use fingerprint identification on his smartphone kept waking up to find it had been used because his son had been pressing his Dad’s finger against the phone while he slept so that the kid could use the phone.

The afternoon kicked off with music from Sarah De Warren, who has a wonderful voice and dealt well with pre-emptive applause from the audience when they thought a song was finished during a pause. Later in the evening, Benjamin Clementine performed several songs with an unusual style.

Noble Peace Prize Winner Tawwakol Karman took the stage next and delivered an inspiring talk on her founding of Women Journalists Without Chains and the role she played in working towards peaceful revolution in Yemen. This was the most moving of all the talks and resulted in considerable applause and standing ovations.

Jay Bregman admitted that he had a hard act to follow and was nervous, but it didn’t really show and his talk on start-ups reaching out to and interacting with those making the regulations that will affect innovations and start-ups.

Robin Ince gave a wonderful, hilarious talk that covered mind envy and the imp of the perverse that drives us to have sudden rapidly suppressed crazy urges to do very, very unwise things. It was perhaps my favourite talk- it was certainly the one I laughed at the most.

Jamie Edwards talked about his experience persuading his school to let him create nuclear fusion in a classroom at the age of thirteen, followed by Sophie Wallace talking about her art project Cliteracy and how no one should have an organ in their body that they are ashamed to talk about.

The final talk of the evening was Anthony Zaboralski’s, which sadly was beset by problems and lacked the energy of the breakout session. The subject was still fascinating and although not the smoothest delivery it was a reminder of the bravery required to get up on the stage in the first place and further, to admit when things aren’t going as planned.

Throughout the day we’d had Ted videos shown on various subjects, including one on the misuse of the word “awesome” – the Great Pyramid is indeed awesome- the sandwich you had at lunch was probably just tasty. She commented that neither was her talk awesome, but reflecting on what I heard at TedX Salford, from a woman who spearheaded a peaceful revolution, from someone who is proud to be called Mr Toilet because it helps spread fight the lack of sanitation killing 1.5 million kids a year, from the school kids making fusion reactors and cancer detectors, yes, I do feel awe at the amazing things people can do. Also a considerable amount of the mind envy that Robin Ince was talking about, but mostly, awe, and thanks, that there is a forum where I can go and hear about what these people have done and are doing.