Crowded into a conference room at the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library, they discussed things that matter to the world.
A professor of biochemistry talked about the path from hardship to success. A graphic designer pondered how the digital age makes audiences ultra-accessible yet more distracted than ever.
In Augusta’s inaugural TEDx event Friday, the idea was for 15 speakers to provoke dialogue and debate by delivering “the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less.” The event is a localized version of the global TED talks, a nonprofit that brings some of the world’s most powerful thinkers to a stage.
The event’s theme was “matter,” which co-organizer Eric Parker said reflects the state of cultural growth in Augusta.
“What this city has developed in the past year connects with the fact that we all matter and we’re important and we can do great things here,” Parker said.
Organizer Grace Belangia applied for a TEDx license last year and said a second conference can be held in 2015 if enough interest is shown.
Only 100 tickets were available for the session Friday, but almost 300 people watched live streaming in viewing parties at several locations.
Ned Murray, the headmaster of Episcopal Day School, gave a talk on the changes in higher education and the need for schools to better prepare students, not just with book smarts, but also with social skills.
He said with new online colleges and emerging financial models, there could be a time when the four-year institution no longer exists.
With the changing climate, Murray said reading, writing and arithmetic might no longer suffice and that more employers are demanding a strong work ethic, problem-solving skills and
creativity from the workforce.
“In the end, what good is an education without a moral compass to guide its use?” Murray said.
He said these noncognitive skills must become more of an urgent focus as early as pre-kindergarten.
“What do our children need to be prepared for the world?” Murray said, calling for a revolution in early education. “They need us to reshape, rethink, refine, reorganize.”
Charlie Bennett, an academic librarian at Georgia Tech, talked about one of the biggest misconceptions about libraries – that they are just a collection of books.
“A library is where citizens of a civilized democracy make choices about what matters, what we should keep and what should disappear,” he said.
Even 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, people decided what pieces of information were important enough to etch onto clay tablets – weather patterns, marriages, big events.
“The form is less important that the information,” he said.
Augusta lawyer Aubrey Rhodes brought his son, Daniel, to the conferences after they became followers of the global TED – Technology, Entertainment, Design – talks.
Rhodes said the event was a way to promote dialogue and cultural connections in the city.
“I hope it sparks some new ideas around the area,” he said.