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TED: structure similar to evangelical sermons?

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Technology, Entertainment, Design: TED. Or as most of us understand it, the series of talks that has much of the world dazzled by its ability to present speakers who can speak on various contemporary subjects and give people either a firm direction on what they should change in their habits, or an inspiration to keep their dreams alive and strive for their best.

Some people nevertheless have begun to see the talks that we all have come to know from a different perspective. Megan Hustad, an author renowned for work such as How to Be Useful and More Than Conquerors: A Memoir of Lost Arguments, wrote a New York Times article recently about how TED talks have grown to be more like a “religion,” where the program style in itself is no less manipulative than the traditional structure it tries to shift. She went on to describe how a great TED talk is reminiscent of a great sermon:

“There’s the gathering of the curious and the hungry. Then a persistent human problem is introduced, one that, as the speaker gently explains, has deeper roots and wider implications than most listeners are prepared to admit. Once everyone has been confronted with this evidence of entropy, contemplated life’s fragility and the elusiveness of inner peace, a decision is called for: Will you remain complacent, or change?”

In our own community on the Hill, we have our own version of TED Talks, the STO Talks, which were held Saturday, April 18. At a glance, the two programs are similar, since they both feature various speakers discussing the issues that surround life on the Hill or other things that they have been contemplating in their long days of studying and teaching.

And yet, there is a stark difference between the two as well. STO Talks, in a sense, have actually become a more effective tool of criticism for students and faculty, particularly for what is going on around the campus and how we have sometimes inappropriately been dealing with it. When what many of us say in class and throughout the campus is barely heard, if not heard at all, the event becomes a channel for these bitter pills to be swallowed formally by all Oles. The talks let us decide on our own if we would use this information to create a new atmosphere of progress at the college, or to simply continue to act as if everything here is okay. We have the choice to simply wish that whatever happens beyond the Hill’s borders won’t contaminate the peace and quiet that we are striving for, or to let these harsh truths dictate the way we go about our time here.

Both TED talks and STO Talks walk the line between instructiveness and “elitist demonstration.” Those giving the talks should be wary of appearing sanctimonious and should instead use the platform they have to educate others about important issues and problems both on the Hill and beyond. But the audience has a responsibility, too: rather than taking in these talks complacently as they would a church sermon, they should use the knowledge they have gained to make a difference in their community, just as the speakers try to do. These talks are great learning opportunities for all, and they should be used as such.

Sam Pattinasarane ’18 pattin1@stolaf.edu is from Jakarta, Indonesia. He majors in political science and Asian studies.

Graphic Credit: ETHAN BOOTE/MANITOU MESSENGER