TED Radio Hour
“The TED Radio Hour is a journey through fascinating ideas: astonishing inventions, fresh approaches to old problems, new ways to think and create. Based on Talks given by riveting speakers on the world-renowned TED stage, each show is centered on a common theme--such as the source of happiness, crowd-sourcing innovation, power shifts, or inexplicable connections.”
Here’s the thing: by now you almost certainly already know about TED Talks. You’ve probably watched several of them. You may even be enamored with the TED platform. TED has become, at this point, a powerhouse brand in the world of ideas, and it seems to be a hallmark of success for the movers and shakers of society to be invited to speak at a TED conference. If you write a successful book or even blog post about how topic X has been misunderstood throughout human history, and that if we could all just wrap our heads around it and do action Y in order to save the world, you’re probably going to be invited to speak at a TED conference. And it’s probably going to mark the start of an illustrious career of books followed by speaking tours followed by more books and more speaking tours. We’ve probably all been enamored of TED Talks at some point or another, including me. But is the content of TED Talks really the answer to all of our problems in life?
Personally, I’ve become skeptical of TED Talks over the years. I’ll talk about why, but first I want to talk about the things I think are still good about TED. I think it provides the much-needed service of introducing new ideas to people who may not otherwise have had access to them. If you’re generally already abreast of the cultural zeitgeist of new ideas, most TED Talks are rehashings of ideas you’ve been hearing about and reading about for weeks (at least) now. But if you’re not, and I think that includes a substantial proportion of people, then what TED does is invaluable--it packages these new ideas in a super easily-accessible format for anyone. Just how many times have you emailed or been emailed a video of a TED Talk that you or the sender thought might be enlightening? Probably more than once. So that’s important. Secondly, and this goes along with the first point: it not only provides a platform for new ideas, the platform it provides is sexy. It’s glamorour. TED has become a sort of ultra-polished, elite institution that actually serves the masses. While it may be next to impossible to attend a TED Conference in person unless you’re either super rich, super famous, or the latest trending social scientist, anyone anywhere can access the Talks after-the-fact. And what they’re accessing is cool. It’s smart. It’s something to tell your friends about, or to talk about on a first date to sound impressive. I applaud anything, including TED Talks, who pushes through the membrane of stupidity in pop-culture while at the same time elevating the world of ideas, because the same person who likes to watch reality TV all day can also get real satisfaction out of a TED Talk. So in that sense TED raises the bar for culture in general.
Unfortunately, I tend to be skeptical of TED Talks for almost the exact reasons I applaud its successes. The brand of TED has become so big and enticing that an invitation to speak at one of their conferences is an opportunity to compete for a golden ticket for life for the speaker. Because of that, there is immense pressure on the speakers to present their ideas in such a way as to generate the most buzz possible. TED thrives on the viralization of culture, and so it follows that the speaker’s main goal becomes not necessarily to present their ideas academically or rationally, but rather to go viral. If a speaker’s presentation successfully goes viral, he or she can pretty much count on other career successes immediately and for life, from book deals to other speaking engagements. I’m not saying that providing a platform for speakers to become successful is intrinsically a bad thing, but anytime there’s that kind of pressure to go viral, the speaker is bound to become less concerned about the truth of the idea and more concerned about the manner in which it is presented. As a result, many of the speakers begin to take on the tone of carnival barkers and snake oil salesmen. And so every presentation at a TED conferences tends to converge toward “If you understand and implement what I’m saying, this idea will change not only your life but the very world we live in.” My criticism is that not every single idea and presentation at TED warrants that level of enthusiasm. Not every speaker’s idea is going to change your life. Each idea might be interesting in and of itself, and it might be fun to think about and talk to your friends about, but most of the presentations aren’t life-changing, ground-breaking stuff. Some are, to be sure. But most aren’t, even though they’re presented that way.
I’ve mostly talked about the brand of TED Talks here in this review, but more or less the same can be said of the podcast, as it is an extension of the Talks. The only real difference is that instead of one cohesive talk, the podcast unites several different talks under the banner of a unifying theme (taking a page from storytelling podcasts, to be sure). For me, this is the sort of podcast I’ll check in on from time to time, but I don’t find myself listening to every episode. What’s more, even when I find the ideas presented in the podcast to be fascinating, more often than not I get so irritated by the aforementioned tone (re: carnival barking, snake oil selling) in which they’re presented that I either have to skip ahead, or turn on a new podcast altogether. Still, if you’re new to the world of ideas and just starting to delve in, TED Radio Hour isn’t a bad place to begin. It’s just not the be-all-end-all, and you’ll probably move on from it eventually.
Very high quality, as you’d expect from the polished brands of both TED and public radio.
Weak. Finding the gems in this podcast can be more trouble than it’s worth.
Guy Raz does a fine job.
I’m guessing it’ll stay about the same as I’ve described in the review.
A Little under an hour.
Overall Score: 6.8/10
I’m hard-pressed to think of particular episodes, but like I said, there are occasional gems in each episode from time to time.
If you like this podcast, you’ll probably like:
- Note to Self
- The Tim Ferriss Show
- How I Built This