As a story producer for On the Coast, I watched the better part of 90 TED Talks last week, live in Vancouver. It's the second year they've been in B.C., and it is a dizzying experience.
Here are five of my favourites from the week. All of these talks will be posted by TED for everyone to see in the coming months.
I also got the chance to interview many of the best speakers for CBC Radio this week. You can hear those interviews by searching for them on the On the Coast website.
1. Monica Lewinsky breaks her silence to fight cyberbullying
Monica Lewinsky became a household name in 1998 after she had an affair with President Bill Clinton. Now, after a decade of mostly silence, we meet her again, this time on her own terms. She's emerged as an advocate for empathy online. Her talk is confessional (she describes how her parents worried she would die by suicide at the time), and it's a rallying cry for a system of ethics to guide us when we click and comment on the internet. She urges everyone to "walk a mile in someone else's headline."
2. Understanding why we have affairs
Psychotherapist Esther Perel says infidelity is a great taboo, almost universally condemned, and yet, almost universally practised. She says we cheat not to hurt our partner or even for sex, but out of a sense of longing and loss. "When we seek the gaze of another," she says, "It isn't always our partner we are turning away from, but the person we have become." When couples come to her after an affair, she says they face a choice. Their old marriage or relationship is over because of the betrayal, so it's time to start anew. It gives both sides an opportunity to speak truthfully and rekindle what was lost.
2. The world without antibiotics
Public health journalist Maryn McKenna says almost half of prescriptions doctors write are a waste because they're written for conditions that won't be improved by the drug. Her talk is a call to all of us to treat antibiotics as a precious tool, to be used only when absolutely necessary. She worries the pace of drug creation won't keep up with new superbugs that are resistant to what we already have. She argues a world without effective antibiotics would mean the end of C-sections, surgeries, and ways to beat common afflictions like pneumonia in children.
3. The end of "silent videos"
MIT PhD student Abe Davis has created a way to take a silent video, and extract any sounds that might have been part of the scene, even though they weren't recorded by a microphone. He uses a computer to act as a visual microphone. It detects the slight vibrations that we can't see with our naked eye (for example, slight shaking in a pane of glass) and amplifies them to piece together what noises were actually part of the scene. His idea was released last year, and you can read a lot about it already. It's a very difficult concept to explain, but his TED Talk had great visuals to make it all clear. The jury is out on how this technology will be used.
4. A subversive letter-writing campaign
Artist Matt Kenyon was bothered by an interview he heard during the Iraq War. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the Americans were not keeping track of Iraqi casualties. So, Kenyon set out to find a way to keep track of those people for the US government. He took yellow sheets of legal paper. The sheets look normal to the naked eye. But when you zoom in, you see what appears as blue lines are actually the names of Iraqis who died. Kenyon gives the pages out and encourages people to write the U.S. government. This way, Kenyon has found a "Trojan Horse" to get the names memorialized alongside all the other official records because the government is obliged to archive letters they receive.