Ideas worth spreading at TECHx
Last week I went to see 14 speakers share their ‘ideas worth spreading’ at Tedx Manchester.
I found myself at the city’s Bridgewater Hall earlier on a Sunday morning than I’d seen in a while, with over 2,000 other people.
When we got there I assumed one thing would be top of the agenda: tech.
This was partly because there were several technologists on the line-up, partly because the theme was ‘Our Tomorrow, Today’ – which has tech written all over it – and partly because nowadays you can’t escape tech no matter where you are or what industry you’re in.
It was a fantastic day – I laughed, I cried (literally) and, as the host Herb Kim said, I was excited by learning again. But as the day went on I kept wondering – where’s the tech?
The technologists in the room – including creative technologist Dan Hett and 'thought economist' Vikas Shah – talked about completely different topics.
Unlike the Winter Olympics’ futuristic opening there were no drones buzzing in at the start to spell out TEDxManchester and no one talked about Bitcoin or AI, or had robots doing backflips onstage.
Then I realised that tech was subtly but crucially worked into almost every part of the day.
TED is a non-profit organisation that started putting on conferences in 1984 but since 2006 the talks have been posted for free online which is probably when most people started hearing about it.
In this way, tech is a huge part of getting the TED message out at all, and clearly this mix of human stories and tech is working.
At the start of this year there were over 2,600 talks available on the website for free and by November 2012, TED Talks had been watched more than one billion times worldwide. They’re also all over YouTube.
The strapline for the event is ‘ideas worth spreading’ and spread they do – the top videos have around 50 million hits.
Because of this these interesting and important ideas get seen around the world, giving people with great stories and ideas a global voice.
Aside from streaming there are also live feeds for local people who wanted to be at the event but couldn’t get tickets.
Alongside the 2,000 or so people in the Bridgwater Hall’s main room on Sunday there were also around 250 people watching a stream in the smaller Barbirolli room, in association with Code Computer Love.
Beaming the talks to outside venues was achieved in partnership with Vita Student, which also gave students access to the stream link so they could watch remotely while they studied.
Lots of the talks yesterday also had a tech angle, even though most didn’t mention it as a headline piece.
Andy Burnham opened the day by sharing his vision of tech driving the city forward, using innovation to solve problems like homelessness, and Manchester’s proud legacy as the home of the computer.
Creative technologist Dan Hett, brother of Martyn Hett who was tragically killed in the Manchester Arena attack last year, talked about the bombing and how he found out about the incident on Twitter - and initially dismissed it as sensationalist social media.
His powerful talk went on to share the importance of spreading positive messages and not giving in to hate and racism – something which tech can definitely play an integral part in.
Next, voiceover artist Nadine Shenton explained how she’s ended up disrupting the traditional recording studio model by building her own studio in her home, with duvets on the walls to dampen the sound.
Although the small space is just a converted toilet, she offers a range of tech to help with her recordings and lets clients listen in via Skype.
Shah, a familiar face in Manchester’s tech and business circles, talked about his battles with mental health. He spoke of the important role that social media can play in the area and said that although from the outside people might look like a success, often they’re struggling when you actually look closer – something which will be familiar to many social media users.
Author Jamie Bartlett is director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media. He talked about how radical fringe groups like the EDL can often be early adopters of tech and that, although they’re often extreme, there’s still lots we can learn from them.
Lucinda Belle is a harpist and singer who’s worked with the likes of Annie Lennox. Her performance seemed pretty straightforward until she surprised us with a techie foot pedal and laptop, adding some high-tech frills into the performance of a very traditional instrument.
Finally, Rasmus Ankerson shared the story of how he used analytics to take FC Midtjylland, a football club no one had ever heard of, to success over Manchester United and filmmaker Max Joseph of the TV show Catfish talked about being a minor celebrity and how the selfie was the new autograph.
Not only was tech in the foundations – or at least an important side-note – for most of the ideas worth spreading, it was also helping to spread them.
I’d highly recommend having a look at TedxManchester 2018 and also to think about the ways that tech will shape – and is already shaping – our future.
And, as many of the talks on Sunday demonstrated, it’s also vital to make sure that we’re using tech to shape that future into a positive one.