Talking with TED

Perhaps, when searching through TED talks yesterday, I didn’t give many a fair chance.

First I filtered by topic of interest.  I’m a girl for the “food”, the “environment”, the “global issues”, and the “beauty” categories… in that order.

I really like food, it’s because I run.

Now, I had to pick at least two exceptional talks, which meant I had a bit of an obstacle to hurdle.  I had gone ahead and opened nearly twenty tabs, each containing a different talk.  Yes that’s more than six hours, I know. This lead me to the strategy that I employed.

I listened to the first fifteen to thirty seconds of a talk, and if I was bored by then, it got “X”-ed. It appears to me that I’m a sucker for a good hook.  Or a nice suit.  Or an expressive face.  Or pretty colours and toys.

In any case, the point of that explanation is to emphasize that, though I chose the two talks that I did, I certainly cannot discredit the talks that I rejected, because they really weren’t given much of a chance.

Given my requirements of either a nice suit, a good hook, and pretty colours, in addition to my initially selected topics of interest, I decided that the following TED talks were the most excellent:

Dan Buettner on How to live to be 100+


Chris Jordan pictures some shocking stats

These talks both gave a very clear image of where we currently sit as a society.  Dan’s talk, however, gave an even clearer image of where we should be (if longevity is what we desire).  Dan used charts directly comparing the average lifespan of individuals throughout North America, with individuals in what he called “Blue Zones” throughout the globe.  This gave the audience an unobstructed view of both our potential, and our real possibility for positive change if we so decide.  We were even given videos depicting the lives and happiness of centenarians living in “blue zones”.  It made me want to be 100.  That’s saying something.  Aren’t your twenties supposed to be your “prime”? Well Dan gave an excellent case for extended happiness through an extended life.

doesn’t this guy look happy? Yeah, he’s 100.

Chris Jordan, on the other hand, made a very compelling depiction of “WHAT IS”, while leaving “WHAT COULD BE” in our hands.  The contrast he really made, was that between what we know to be true, and what the truth really looks like.  For him, it’s our decision to take the truth and determine whether or not we our satisfied with our current state.  His job was to deliver us the truth in a way that we can feel, conceptualize, and relate to.  He took staggering statistics involving unfathomable numbers and turned them into works of art involving tangible items in huge quantities. The picture below is made up of individual barbie dolls.  The number of barbie dolls in the picture represent the number of women in America who have undergone breast augmentation.

I had three barbies when I was little.  My mom told me that three was too many. “Brittany, barbie dolls represent unattainable female proportions and I do not want you developing your self image based on this plastic figurine.”  Well mom, I’ll show you too many barbies.

Chris is the master of showing you “WHAT IS”.

Chris, however, conveyed this without the use of much literary genius or storytelling.  His only narrative was his personal story.  He told us about why he started creating this art and how challenging some of his pieces were to put together.  He explained to us what he hoped to accomplish.  This “narrative” in a sense, brought the pictures home.  It inspired self reflection.  Wow, we really have become numb to crises and incredible statistics. It took this man to turn tobacco deaths into a giant mural for us to actually feel magnitude.

Dan Buettner’s entire talk was about stories.  Dan visited people in each of his focus communities in order to understand how they live the way they live and why it has benefitted them so greatly, and he shared this with us.  He spoke about spending a day with one centenarian who took him cruising in her new ride, and another who completed open heart surgery.  This spoke to the audience in a way that connected them to the added joys they could experience with those extra years of life.  Living longer was no longer an equation, with the result being an increased number and satisfaction, it was an experience.  We saw what we could have and how we could have it, by actually seeing and hearing about people who do so.

Dan had a very keen sense of using both logical information and emotional content because the formula that he prescribed as a solution required both in itself.  Not only do individuals require a heavily plant-based diet and continuous physical activity (which can be quantified and scientifically explained), they require love, care, and a stable community (none of which can be calculated).  His explanations and delivery of content simply had to follow suit because those were the foundations of his presentation.  Longevity could have easily been a physician prescribed pill, but his presentation emphasized the untruths of that theory by using both logic and emotional connectivity.

Chris, on the other, balanced emotional content with logical content within each art piece.  Each picture was not only created to evoke emotion, but it was created using a hard statistic.  The entire point of Chris’s presentation was to attach feeling to statistics.  His way of balancing the two seemingly different things, was by combining them in form, so that we would be able to more easily connect the two.

In this way his art was very effective.  I know that if someone had stood on stage and simply dictated each of the statistics that he had portrayed on canvas or in a mural, I would have “X”-ed the TED talk and labelled it boring.  His explanations that went along with each picture were also essential in order for the media to do it’s job.  Without his appeal, explaining that we have become recognizably numb, the pictures would have had the same personal effect.  I could have simply looked at them with disgust and blamed others for being so ignorant as to let this happen.

Dan’s form of media was also, fancy that, effective.  Now, quite honestly, I wouldn’t have suffered through either of these two videos if I hadn’t found their mode of conveying messages and their media effective.. which can explain why I am singing their praises.  His videos were heart warming and made me think of my grandparents or great-grandparents.  They made me hope that those that are still alive have followed the right formula and will be with me for a while yet.

That’s my great-grandma.  She’s a go-getter. I hope that I can be a go-getter too, and that I will HAVE great-grandchildren alive to se me go-get.  Dan’s videos helped give the audience hope by seeing, in person, that longevity can happen and how longevity can happen.

I think that the benefits of Dan’s talk to the audience was incredibly implicit.  That, or perhaps he really did use “What’s in it for you” strategy.  He’s giving us the tools that we need to live longer.  It’s like he gave us the magic key to the elixir of life, the philosopher’s stone, the chamber of secrets. Ok this isn’t hogwarts, he told us that we can grow old and happy, and he told us how.  There isn’t an individual in the audience who couldn’t gain from that knowledge (save those who plan on martyrdom etc.).

Now, Chris Jordan’s presentation didn’t necessarily have the same power of persuasion.  His was eye opening, but it seems that he believes it is up to us to take action based on the depth of our feelings.  What he wanted to do for us was to engage those feelings that we may have been ignoring.

His presentation may only call to action people who already have opinions and ambitions in global social improvement, because it is those people who will most appreciate the new emotions that have been evoked.  Though perhaps not everyone will be provoked to react because of his presentation, Chris certainly did his part to relate to individuals who began with a limited perspective.  His entire presentation was about turning what we know now, into the real picture.  He took individual objects, that anyone can relate to and understand, and allowed them to represent a staggering social truth, at least one of which has implications in each and every audience member’s life.  Everyone can relate to cups used on an airplane, and each person can relate to the size of the statue of liberty.  Any audience member can relate to practical references.

Dan’s topic in itself has universal appeal.  It seems like adding emotional appeal in the form of real life stories, taken from a very bipartisan standpoint, to a presentation about enriching and lengthening our lives … a presentation with that content would have to go out of it’s way to avoid identifying with the audience.  Everyone faces age.  Everyone has family.  Everyone wants health.  I think he emphasized the fact that his solution was universal by using multinational examples.  He finished with an example of a group in North America itself.  This, I believe, was the final step in sealing his connection with the audience.  Not only could we see that longevity was possible, we saw that it was possible for us.  Many people started out knowing that in remote asian cultured where strange varieties of fish were available along with boundless tofu and wild vegetables, people lived incredibly long lives.  What we didn’t know was that it wasn’t those strange unique factors that determined their life expectancy, it was the factors that are common between many global communities, factors that North Americans can use to their personal benefit.

Now excuse me while I go eat plants,

walk downtown,


drink wine,

and spend copious amounts of time with my family. 🙂

See you in 81 years when I’m still kickin.




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