Trish Groves: TED 2012 Only connect

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.” (EM Forster Howards End)

Here at TEDActive—the younger, funkier sister of California’s TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) annual conference—Forster’s 1921 theme “only connect” seems ever more relevant.

Through free videos of TED talks are connecting thousands of us to ideas, innovations, and creativity. These talks, each lasting no more than 18 minutes, have been downloaded more than 700 million times, translated into 20 languages, pushed out through free mobile apps, and will soon be featured in US National Public Radio’s NPR TED Radio Hour.

“Until recently, the universal self-­actualizing creative ambition was to write a novel,” writes Benjamin Wallace in this week’s New York magazine,  “Everyone has a novel in them, it was said. Now the fantasy has changed: Everyone has a TED Talk in them….[and] June Cohen, who runs TED’s media operation, told an audience two years ago that her sister-in-law calls the TED Talk ‘a secular sermon.'”

TED has its detractors, and indeed I found this article because @coyneoftherealm tweeted it this morning, along with the comment “TED: rings of interesting and insecure people desperately seeking entry into the realm of the placid and self-satisfied.”

That may be fair(ish) comment on the three main annual 4-day conferences: TED in Long Beach California each February/March; TEDActive, its live simulcast/retreat in Palm Springs; and the summer TEDGlobal conference, currently held each July in Edinburgh. For some years the BMJ has sent an editor to TED to learn, to be inspired, and to think. Having been to both of the California events I (mostly) disagree with the detractors—not least after meeting and talking this week with a truly diverse international crowd in the laid back, beanbags + flipflops atmosphere of TEDActive.

And it’s getting easier and easier to give or experience a live TED talk through the burgeoning TEDx programme of often small, local, self-organised events that combine showings of TEDTalk videos and live speakers and charge as little as £10 to attend. For instance, this month there are one day TEDx conferences at Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham.

This week I’ve met a lot of TEDx organisers from all over the world, including India, Egypt, South Korea, and Baghdad, because there are 250 of them here at TEDActive getting support, tuition, and advice on running their events and making them TEDish. What else has been happening this week? I’ll explain in my next blog post, but meanwhile here’s a snapshot via Twitter (@trished) and Storify.

Trish Groves is deputy editor, BMJ