An evening with TEDxOrenda…

Last week, I went to TEDxOrdenda – an evening of talks sanctioned (but not organised) by TED. I’ve been to a couple of TEDx events before, and I’ve watched lots of TEDtalks. TEDxOrenda was organised by Drew Buddie (Digital Maverick on Twitter), who did a sterling job; it was associated with BETT – “the biggest UK trade show of educational technology” – and so had an education focus, though that felt co-incident rather than necessity. (Drew explained that “orenda” was a Huron native American word which means the opposite of “kismet” – that is, rather than fate, the future lies is our own hands – it is down to us and our choices.)

It was a very interesting, mixed evening; some of the speakers stayed close to a motivational model, others had more content to share. Despite the pleasure I take from TED, their model is very much about content delivery: it is people standing up on a stage, talking to others in an auditorium. I understand it explicitly excludes debate and discussion (I might be wrong!), and speakers rarely take questions. Despite the varied programme Drew put together, I think I would have benefited from an opportunity to engage more – either with the speakers through questions or with those around me through discussion of the ideas raised.

There were five speakers I really appreciated. First of these was Vinay Gupta, who raised some important and challenging questions about the way our society uses its resources and our place in the world. What does poverty look like? Despite downturn and recession, for most people in the world Vinay asserts that it is whether one can access water without fear of disease: lack of simple infrastructure kills 20m people a year. Our “failure of governance is killing the planet”, despite the availability of solutions to many of the world’s problems. (For instance, Vinay described how a bucket filled with alternating layers of sand and grit – I think! – can be used to purify water.) Vinay can be confrontational, but we probably need to be confronted by these issues; the thing is, how do we actually bring about change as a result? And – more fundamentally – how much do we – I – want to change?

Sydney Padua covered lots of geek bases in her discussion of her online comic, 2dgoggles, featuring the crime fighting due of Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. In an alternate universe, naturally. All the ideas in her comic are based on ideas and beliefs that Lovelace and Babbage held or that were extant in their 19th century mileu – just abstracted and warped slightly…

Building on the “fun” aspect of Lovelace and Babbage, Alex Fleetwood of Hide & Seek described the role of novel games in learning. When people talk about games in education, I tend to think of complex eLearning environments – a World-of-Warcraft for learning. All the games that Alex described were shocking in their simplicity. Tate Trumps sounded like the most technological, a way to create interaction with the pictures at Tate Modern. The others were based more accessible technologies – a board, a playground, a piece of paper – and engaged users to think about the issues (such as what a Norman battlefield was actually like).

Simon Raymonde of Bella Union Records (and late of the Cocteau Twins) talked about his philosophy around running a record label – kind of how he got here. It was an interesting story. Simon invited questions after his talk – the only speaker to do so (and presumably moving off the TED script!), leading to a discussion of the role of a music industry in the digital age. (Simon was pro (free-)downloading, reckoning that it created demand for paid for music.)

Last up was Lloyd Davis, discussing various aspects his role as “social artist” and serenading us with his ukulele and singing. I’ve worked with Lloyd and he’s cropped up a fair few times on this blog. He’s preparing to cross America in the hands of his social media network. An interesting prospect – more kismet than orenda, perhaps!

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