“Hi! Have you heard about TEDxClaremontColleges? It’s a local TED conference held on March 7th!”
As I was handing out palm cards for TEDxClaremontColleges, an event put on by volunteers from the 7C’s (5 undergraduate schools and 2 graduate universites), I faced many hesitant hands.
“Uh… yeah I think I’ve seen some posters around? Isn’t that the videos and stuff?”
“Yes! TEDtalks. Our event will feature 10 live speakers who all have a unique take on what it means to be open to interpretation in their world of expertise.”
As they shuffled off, I was left reflecting on what was holding me back from approaching people with 100% enthusiasm. After all, this was an event that I would be volunteering at! Of course, many 7C students were very excited about this event, but I chose this specific interaction because it reflected the average reaction I got as I tried to tell others about TEDx. It also captures a moment when I hesitated to respond and explain why my own event was so worthwhile.
Although I seemed to promote this event with great enthusiasm, I did not actually fully understand why a TED conference must be experienced in person. I watch TEDtalks online all the time, and many of them have been very influencial in shaping my views on relationships with others, informing my many areas of interest, and giving me ideas as to how others are changing the world. With the thousands of inspiring TEDtalks avaiblable with a few clicks on my laptop, why should I believe, and how should I convince others, that a live conference that lasts 6 hours on a busy Saturday is worthwhile? Why should anyone attend a live conference of any kind when the online version can be just as informative (while also granting someone the ability to pause the video when distracted or busy)?
As I approached the steps of Garrison Theater on Saturday morning, I began to see how this was no ordinary conference. The TEDx organizers seemed to really understand the invaluable experiential element of the conference; they adorned the walls and steps with artwork, set up interactive art pieces, designed a strategic grounds set-up conducive to maximizing interactions and conversations, and even planned activites appropriate for attendees of different ages. I was blown away by the professionalism and the feeling of being immersed in the theme. Paradoxically, each talk was centered around this theme, yet also left each audience member with the feeling that their understanding of interpretation had just been expanded significantly.
But it was not until the end of every session that I really understood the power of attending a live conference, with a live audience of others who also chose to spend their Saturday in this way. After a provoking, intruiguing, disturbing, haunting, and unexpected dance performance ended the second session with a boom, I could sense other members of the audience rise to their feet hesitantly, everyone seeking out another attendee to discuss their reactions with. We had all watched the same performance, yet we all knew we had a different experience. Suddenly, the previously awkward and averted gazes turned into an unrestrainable “HELLO hey are you also heading out oh COOL ok so where you from uh huh oh wow sweet yeah (and of course the question everyone was dying to ask) SOO what did you think of the performance?” And what was so interesting was how everyone approached this question differently; some jumped right into their interpretation and opinion of the piece while others seeked out different opinions before presenting their own.
I was even able to talk to Olivia Warren (HM ’14), one of two winners of the TEDxClaremontColleges Student Speaker Competition. As I asked about her experiences with color-grapheme synesthesia, the crowd surrounding her pulled in tightly, entraced by her stories. I asked her how she views alphabets from other languages, and whether she has met someone who has color-grapheme synesthesia but did not know a phonetic language as a native language.
I also asked her about the involvement of top-down processing in perception:”When you see “o” and “0” out of context, which color do you see?” I asked as I pointed to the “0” in “2015” and the “O” in “Olivia” printed on her nametag. “How does experience of seeing the character out of context compare with seeing it in context?”
She laughed, and said that she had asked herself many of the same questions. In response to my question about top-down processing, she mentioned that she used to think the elaborate “D” in “Disneyland” was a “G.” Thus, she would see a faint overlay of the color she associates with “G” over the Disneyland logo. One day, when her friend told her it was actually a “D,” she remembered starting to see it differently, and now she can no longer “see” the color she associates with “G” over the letter “D”! Aside from satisfying my curiosity, she truly inspired me with her bold sharing of the the trials and blessings of being so different from her peers. As I looked around at the crowd that had gathered, I realized that I was surrounded by a community that was as excited about these ideas as I was. And as I engaged in conversation after conversation, I realized a unreplicable aspect of a live conference: the opporutnity to meet and converse with people in a context that few other school events could fashion.
Additionally, for all TEDx affliated events, TEDx requires that a certain number of videos from the TEDx site be shown. During the event, I saw two videos that I had already seen, but rewatching them while being surrounded by a live audience and everyone else’s organic responses really heightened my experience of the same talks I had watched by myself in my dorm room. My previous assumption – that an online video adequately conveyed the same watching experience as a live conference – was proven wrong, yet again.
And at the reception following the event, I was further blown away by each staff member’s passion for providing an invaluable and unreplicatable space to share ideas. As I asked them about their intention behind including each interactive art piece, performance, and speaker, and it was so admirable to see how every detail of design was centered around their passion and vision.
What a truly invaluble experience! The conference may have just ended, but I’m already excited for TEDxClaremontColleges 2016.