It's time we talked

Augusta's TEDx event provided inspiring platform to share compelling ideas
Participants in the TEDx lecture event exchange ideas between sessions at the Augusta-Richmond County Library on Jan. 31.

It’s the unprecedented democratization of ideas – and at the same time, it’s a meritocracy featuring the best ones.

It’s the “TED Talk” phenomenon, which features ordinary people – and some quite extraordinary ones – giving short video talks in front of live audiences on any topic under the sun. The TED website (www.ted.com) bills itself as “a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”

And while the organic lecture series is largely an Internet sensation, it came to Augusta on Jan. 31 as a “TEDx” event – one staged by and for the community, with the license and guidance of the TED folks.

At the sold-out, all-day event inside the Augusta-Richmond County Public Library, taped for later viewing online, 15 hand-picked speakers took the stage to talk about whatever they were passionate about.

Some 100 attendees, and another couple hundred at several remote viewing sites around town, heard – literally – how Jonathan Adams of Lawrenceville treated his severe anxiety with sound therapy, and has become a traveling musician.

They heard from David Walker how his camera has helped him appreciate the infinite beauty of human diversity.

They heard Alex Wier’s view that, in a society that surrounds us with video screens and instant communications, it’s important to control your own message – and to keep it real.

Speaking of real, the audience was treated to some heartwarming authenticity from local artist Leonard “Porkchop” Zimmerman, who told his story of surviving the crushing loss of a loved one and picking himself up and cajoling himself into being happy (hence his “Happy” robot posters, now seen throughout Augusta and across the ocean).

They heard Georgia Regents University’s Dr. Stephen Hsu’s harrowing tale of surviving Mao’s Cultural Revolution as the son of parents who dared to be educated in the U.S., and of his own courageous dive into higher education (“I failed miserably – the first time...”). After arriving in this country with $20 and poor English, “I’m living my dream,” he told the audience.

And, in one of the most polished and provocative presentations, Episcopal Day School Headmaster Ned Murray shared his predictions for higher education – and made an emotion-choked appeal for a revolution in how we prepare the very young for the changing landscape. In Murray’s view, the walls that have, throughout history, limited access to higher education are coming down – through such things as free “massive open online courses” (which he calls one of the greatest equalizers since the printing press) and other free-market forces.

Today’s kindergartners may not require the unsustainable tuitions of today, Murray says, but they will need different types of skills to get ahead – particularly hard-to-measure “noncognitive” skills such as emotional maturity, interpersonal skills, a moral compass and more.

If it sounds like the TEDx event was stimulating, that’s an understatement. This is what happens when people get up, get out and feed their curiosity and ply their passion. It’s the best sort of human interaction.

Grace A. Belangia, organizer of “TedxTelfairStreet,” joined with theClubhou.se – a local membership-based technology advocacy group – and lots of volunteers to get this done. They hope, based on feedback from this one, to stage a similar, though larger, event next year. That, she said, will require “the support of resources, funding, mentors, sponsors and materials so it is a nonprofit model that is self-sustaining.”

It’s all about change and progress through listening – to people and ideas that might otherwise never have commanded a large audience.

“It is obvious to me,” Belangia says, “with all of the recent developments at Fort Gordon, the ongoing

presence of SRS, the potential for growth at Georgia Regents University – and
the growing tech startup scene at
theClubhou.se – that Augusta is on the precipice of enormous growth and prosperity. The real question is whether we, as a community believe in Augusta.”

On a community level, it’s terrific networking – and just fun. On a global basis, it’s a factory for ideas, great and small. One global talk shown on video at the TEDx event featured a woman merely putting forth her idea of holding business meetings on walks. Last week, an attendee invited us to do just that on the Riverwalk.

One other happy byproduct of the TEDx process: It helps our friends and neighbors exercise their public speaking skills and build up their poise, even as they communicate things that get their juices flowing.

Mostly, it will get you excited and give you hope. TED Talks, and other flora of the Information Age, have sharply reduced the time it takes for ideas great and good to take root.

All we have to do is listen.

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